Much like the economic recovery, employment levels across state governments have been uneven in recent years. Some sectors incurred sizable cuts as states looked to trim costs, while higher education and select agencies fared much better.
The Census Bureau published new data last week showing state governments collectively employed about 4.3 million workers in 2012, down about 47,000 from 2011. It marks the third consecutive year of declining employment following steady growth in the years leading up to the Great Recession.
The Census of Governments survey differs from estimates published by the Labor Department in that it provides more detailed counts of public employees across multiple states and municipalities.
Although most areas of state government haven’t experience major swings in employment recently, going back further provides a clearer picture of where shifts took place. Governing reviewed data from 2007 (the last pre-recession year) to 2012; here are a few takeaways:
States Shedding the Most Jobs
In the five-year period ending in 2012, 37 state governments trimmed non-education employment. It’s difficult, though, to gauge just how states managed the decline, most likely they did so via either attrition, layoffs or outsourcing work to contractors.
We break out education employment – mostly college and university jobs – separately here because it accounts for such a large share of public employment.
States losing the most non-education jobs were New York (-13,045), Florida (-11,637) and New Jersey (-8,827). New Mexico recorded the largest drop in terms of percentage change (16 percent), mostly resulting from a large decline in public hospital employment.
In some cases, cuts to select agencies pushed down totals. But, with a few exceptions, states with stronger economies tended to add more workers.
The following map shows percentage changes in non-education full-time equivalent employment from 2007 to 2012. Blue states recorded job growth; others made cuts. Click a state to display employment data for select areas of state governments.
Please zoom out for Alaska and Hawaii
Kansas added 2,648 jobs over the five-year period, more than any other state.
Where Governments Made Cuts
With the exception of higher education, all the major areas of state government employment suffered cuts in recent years.
Natural resources jobs, which include conservation, development and regulatory job functions, dipped nearly 10 percent.
State prisons also shrunk payrolls, with total corrections employment declining about 30,000, or 6 percent. Texas reduced its corrections workforce by nearly 7,000, while Ohio and Michigan each lost more than 3,000 positions.
Of course, there’s significant variation across states. Here’s how employment levels changed nationally between 2007 and 2012 for select job functions:
Higher Ed Boosts Employment Levels
If there’s one area of state government that enjoyed more stability during the recession and the recovery so far, it’s higher education. Colleges and universities added about 115,000 positions nationally since 2007, while all other areas of state government lost nearly 100,000 jobs.
State with particularly large gains over the five-year period included Texas (+22,064), California (+14,783), North Carolina (+9,872) and Georgia (+9,197).
View Changes in Your State
Finally, we've compiled more than 50 years of state employment data into an interactive tool showing changes in employment, by job type, for each state. Click to open the data tool in a new window.