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Private-Sector Employment Grew 4 Times Faster Than Government in 2015

New data depicts weak job growth for all levels of government.

Whatcom Community College
Students at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington.
Wikimedia Commons/
Last year was another year of weak growth for public-sector workers.

Government employment climbed only one-half of one percent over the 12 months ending in December, according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates released Friday. By comparison, private-sector employment expanded about 2.2 percent over the same period -- more than four times the growth rate of the public sector.

At the local level, public education employment remained nearly unchanged for the year, while the rest of the sector added an estimated 57,000 jobs. As a whole, local governments employ roughly 470,000 fewer workers than peak levels reached in 2008.

Colleges and universities account for all of the growth in public payrolls at the state level. Education jobs climbed by 39,000, up about 1.5 percent since the start of the year, while total employment for other areas of state government was statistically unchanged. Excluding education, state employment is down 6.4 percent, or 182,000 jobs, from its 2008 peak.

State spending in fiscal 2015 remained about 4 percent below inflation-adjusted 2008 levels, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO). Much of the recent increases in state spending have been targeted to Medicaid and education funding. The latest NASBO fiscal survey projects that total state spending will rise again this year, but at a smaller rate than the prior fiscal year.

The strongest hiring period in 2015 occurred over the summer, when there was an uptick in local government employment between June and August.

Annual monthly averages paint a similar picture of how government employment has fared. The sector collectively employed an average of 87,000 more workers last year compared to 2014, an increase of just 0.4 percent, compared to a 2.4 percent uptick for private-sector employers.

This table shows changes in annual averages and differences in December totals:

Sector Total Change: December 2015 - December 2014 2014-2015 Annual Average Change
Federal Government 22,000 (+0.8%) 10,000 (+0.4%)
State Government: Total 38,000 (+0.7%) 32,000 (+0.6%)
State Government: Education 38,500 (+1.5%) 37,900 (+1.6%)
State Government: Non-education -200 (0%) -6,100 (-0.2%)
Local Government 50,000 (+0.3%) 45,000 (+0.3%)
Local Government: Education -7,500 (-0.1%) 10,000 (+0.1%)
Local Government: Non-education 56,900 (+0.9%) 35,200 (+0.6%)
SOURCE: Author's calculations of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) non-seasonally adjusted data. Estimates are preliminary and subject to change.
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