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Weak Government Job Growth, in 4 Charts

See just how far state and local government employment lags behind other sectors of the economy.

The Labor Department's latest report signaled that a broader economic slowdown is taking place after job growth ticked up last year. The economy added just 126,000 jobs last month -- the lowest tally in more than a year.

While the new estimates were disappointing, they're hardly anything out of the ordinary for the public sector. Collectively, government employment has remained essentially flat over the past few months, continuing a prolonged period of slow growth. Even as private-sector job gains accelerated last year, most governments have yet to experience steady increases in hiring.

The following charts illustrate the current state of public-sector employment:

Public-sector recovery trails private sector

Total state and local government employment peaked during the early stages of the recession in the summer of 2008, reaching about 19.8 million jobs. The Labor Department's most recent estimates indicate the sector remains about 630,000 jobs below this level. Meanwhile, the private sector has surpassed its peak, although the recovery has been uneven across different parts of the country.

(Note that employment growth would appear weaker if population growth were taken into consideration.)

Slowest growth of any sector

Reviewing data for individual sectors further shows just how far government trails other areas of the economy. Over the past 12 months, states, localities and the federal government added a combined 72,000 jobs, representing an increase of just 0.3 percent. That's the slowest growth of any major industry.


Local government employment remains stagnant

Local governments (including schools) account for nearly two-thirds of public-sector employment. Slow growth for local government payrolls has persisted in recent months, with the Labor Department's latest estimates suggesting employment for March is at the same level as it was in August.


Non-education state government jobs declining

State government job growth has also yet to accelerate. Nearly half of employees in this sector work in education, mostly for colleges and universities. When this segment of the workforce, which has experienced slow growth, is subtracted, the picture becomes much bleaker for the rest of the sector. Non-education state government payrolls have shed an estimated 174,000 jobs since the start of the recession, a decline of about 6.2 percent.


Mike Maciag is Data Editor for GOVERNING.
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