Where the Government Workforce Is (And Isn't) Keeping Up With Growth
Per capita public employment dropped the most in Alaska and Arizona, while other states are expanding their workforces.
The prevalence of government jobs is heading in starkly different directions across the country.
Last year, there were 233 state and local government employees, excluding teachers, for every 10,000 Americans. That’s the exact same rate as five years ago, according to our calculations of data from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll.
To assess shifts in each state, we calculated numbers of full-time equivalent state and local government employees per capita for 2013 and 2018 from Census data, excluding education employees and federal workers.
Alaska and Arizona sustained the largest declines in government workers.
Arizona lost about 22 government workers per 10,000 residents, the steepest drop nationally. Local governments made deep staffing cuts following the economic downturn more than a decade ago. Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, says this is the first year that local budgets met or exceeded pre-recession levels. “The trend has been to go very conservative on staffing levels by outsourcing or contracting,” he says.
At the same time, the state’s rapid population growth and development hasn’t slowed. Arizona’s overall rate of public employment per capita is now the lowest nationally. A loss of several thousand public hospital employees accounted for most of the recent decline, followed by corrections staffing.
Meanwhile, Alaska has also struggled to fund government jobs with far less revenues from oil taxes and royalties. Census data suggest none of the state's major public employee job classifications experienced any significant growth in recent years. Many segments of the state and local workforce are instead shrinking, particularly highways, housing and natural resources. In all, there are about 20 fewer government workers per 10,000 Alaska residents than five years ago.
Elsewhere, a select group of other states experienced noticeable gains.
North Dakota added 19 noneducation government workers per 10,000 residents over the five-year period (or nearly 20,000), the most nationally. Kansas wasn’t too far behind, mostly a result of substantial growth in public hospital employment.
New York was somewhat of an outlier in that state and local government payrolls grew noticeably despite slight population losses. Census data show the workforce expanded by 25,000 statewide since 2013, with corrections, police and transit employment accounting for most of the increase. No other state experiencing a population decline over the five-year period increased the size of its workforce.
Another state with a more noticeable uptick in per capita public employment was Minnesota, with pubic welfare employees making up the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. Massachusetts similarly added about 10,900 workers, with transit employees accounting for about half of the increase.
It’s worth noting that some changes in employment may have more to do with shifting work from contractors to public employees or vice versa than any changes in providing services.
Nationally, it’s local governments, rather than states, that are expanding their payrolls. U.S. local government employment has slowly but steadily climbed for about five consecutive years, while noneducation state government jobs have remained essentially flat.
Examining national state and local employment estimates further depict significant changes for select job functions. Workers classified as fire protection, health, hospitals, parks and recreation, and transit employees all increased by more than 5 percent over the five-year period. The only major areas of the public workforce that contracted, albeit slightly, were highways and housing and community development.
This table shows numbers of full-time equivalent state and local government workers per capita, excluding education employees.
|State||2013-18 Change||2018 Employees Per 10K||2013 Employees Per 10K|
|District of Columbia||16.5||592.0||575.5|
Figures refer to full-time equivalent employees, excluding education.
SOURCE: Governing calculations of 2013, 2018 Census Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll data