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Government Employment Continues to Shrink as Total Jobs Rise

While most sectors saw month-over-month growth in employment, the government continued losing workers in the latest jobs report — a trend not unexpected given agencies' reliance on tax and fee revenue.

Editor's note: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has acknowledged misclassification in its recent employment reports that it has not corrected. The numbers used in this story are the ones presented by the Bureau.

The latest official jobs report for the U.S. was surprisingly good given the months of economic shutdown the country has endured, but there was one sector where the trend was not good: government.

According to the latest seasonally adjusted numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total non-farm employment was up 2% from April to May, but across federal, state and local governments — including education and the U.S. Postal Service — employment fell by 3%, or more than half a million workers.
Though the good news economywide was somewhat unexpected, some did expect bad news for government to continue. Since government revenue stems from economic activity that generates taxes and fees, a slowdown in the wider economy might take time to hit to the public sector. For government technology shops, there might be an even longer lag time.

By that same logic, it could also take time for positive developments in the economy to hit the government.

Digging deeper into the May numbers, the parts of the government worst hit were state and local education as well as local government in general.
State government outside of education actually saw employment rise slightly — by 3,300 jobs — when comparing May 2019 to May 2020. However, state government employment shrank 20,700 from April to May 2020.

Monthly numbers were all either flat or negative for government, but year-over-year there was one area of growth: From May 2019 to May 2020 employment in the federal government (excluding the U.S. Postal Service) grew by 51,800 jobs or 2%. 


Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.