Full-Time Government Jobs Down, Part-Time Employment Up

New data shows many state and local governments cut full-time staff last year while adding part-time workers.
by | August 23, 2012 AT 9:00 PM

Many state and local governments are opting to hire more part-time workers to fill the void left by a gradually shrinking public workforce, census data released Thursday shows.

Total full-time equivalent employment for U.S. state and local governments dipped 1.4 percent last year from 2010 as agencies slashed payrolls to bridge budget shortfalls driven by the economic downturn. But while many of these agencies cut full-time staff, overall part-time employment for both state and local governments recorded a minimal increase.

On the state level, a Governing analysis showed 31 states either recorded a higher percent increase in part-time than full-time jobs, or cut part-time positions at a lower rate than full-time reductions over the year.

This shift was more apparent in some states than others. Utah’s part-time employee payrolls swelled 18 percent while full-time employment rose only 2.4 percent for the year. The state’s colleges and universities accounted for much of the increase, adding nearly 4,200 part-time positions, according to census data.

The Census Bureau surveyed state governments and a sampling of municipalities, compiling employment and payroll for March 2011.

Montana (10.4 percent), Indiana (9.6 percent) and Arkansas (7.6 percent) also recorded significant year-over-year jumps in part-time state government employment while shedding total full-time staff.

Elizabeth Kellar, president of the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, said hiring part-time workers is an attractive option for governments looking to scale back costs. While the pace of public sector layoffs has slowed, she said agencies are continuing to make necessary workforce reductions.

“They’re still facing fiscal challenges,” she said. “There is a lot of restructuring that’s going on.”

Rather than recruit a full-time employee after a departure, some agencies may elect to fill a position part time, at least temporarily.

Employees in certain circumstances, such as those with young families, may also prefer to work part time instead. This allows governments to offer flexible work accommodations while retaining talent. Kellar said she expects many baby boomers set to retire could decide to stay on board part time instead.

“HR managers are trying to be as creative as they can be to meet their organizational needs,” she said.

State governments lost an estimated 24,600 full-time workers while part-time employment grew by about 12,600. Localities cut an estimated 185,000 full-time positions over the year – a reduction of about 1.7 percent – but still added about 10,000 part-time jobs.

Although the overall increase in part-time employment was not significant, some sectors of local government did record notable gains.

Part-time employment for financial administration increased 3.4 percent, while full-time employment dropped 1.8 percent. Local government payrolls also added about 3,000 part-time non-officer police protection jobs (a category the Census Bureau uses to define those without the power of arrest, such as crossing guards) while eliminating more than 4,000 similar full-time positions, according to data.

The change in employment was also reflected in education, which accounts for more than half the nation’s total local government workforce. Schools cut an estimated 85,000 full-time elementary and secondary education positions nationwide, while adding about 17,000 part-time jobs.

It’s unknown, though, whether this slight shift in employment will continue as the economy recovers and government revenues rebound.

State Government Data

Select a state or government function to filter the data below. Estimates are for full- and part-time state government employment reported for March 2011. Governing computed percentage changes in employment from March 2010 to March 2011, shown in the two columns on the right. Figures for some state government categories were not reported. View an expanded interactive table on Governing Data.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll