How Public-Sector Employment Fared in 2015

All levels of government experienced weak job growth, while the private sector expanded five times faster.
by | December 4, 2015

Across all levels of government, 2015 has been another year of weak job growth.

Estimates published by the U.S. Department of Labor Friday suggest state and local government payrolls didn’t increase much in November, as has been the case much of the year.

Public-sector employment growth appears particularly bleak when compared to some of the more recent gains in the private sector. Over the past 12 months, governments (local, state and federal) added an estimated 93,000 jobs, or an increase of just 0.4 percent. Meanwhile, private-sector employment has expanded 2.1 percent, a growth rate that’s roughly five times that of the public sector.

Local government employment -- the largest segment of the public sector -- has declined slightly in recent months. More than half of these jobs are in education, which has held back overall growth as school districts made cuts or froze hiring. The latest estimates indicate local education employment has remained essentially unchanged nationally (-2,800) since last November.

Elementary and secondary education spending has started to rebound in most states. Total spending, however, is still down in roughly two-thirds of states when fiscal 2013 totals are compared with 2008 and adjusted for inflation.

At the state level, governments have seen only marginally better growth. Unlike localities, nearly all of the sector’s job gains are attributable to education, with higher ed employment increasing about 1.2 percent (+29,500) since last November. For the rest of the sector, which includes large numbers of public safety and health positions, payroll employment remains at about the same level (+3,400) as 12 months ago. More recently, state governments have enjoyed six consecutive months of job gains, but the bulk of the growth has come from colleges and universities.

Total federal employment has similarly increased just 0.6 percent. That represents an improvement, though, from the persistent cuts the sector incurred from 2011 through 2014.

These are national estimates and some areas of the country have fared better than others. Changes in government employment have historically trailed private-sector job gains or losses.

Last month, employment increased by 211,000 across all sectors of the economy and the national unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5 percent.

Select a sector of government below to view monthly changes in employment: