Data: Where Government Employment Has Increased and Shrunk

Which states have shed the most public employees? Which have added the most? And what types of jobs are leading the pack? New numbers from the Census Bureau help to illustrate the big picture.

The number of people working in state and local government is growing — but not as quickly as the country is.

Last year, according to recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, public-sector workers (excluding education and federal workers) numbered 7.6 million — the highest level in the past decade, and 11,000 greater than in 2018. But the number of state and local employees per 10,000 people fell from 233.6 to 232.8, after a decadal peak of 245.6 in 2010.

Indeed, while state and local government employment grew 0.6 percent from 2010-2019, the U.S. population rose 6.1 percent, or roughly 10 times faster.

In the last five years, police, fire and health care have been the biggest drivers of public-sector employment, while social insurance administration and highway work shrank. But in the last year, it was financial administration that grew faster than any other government job outside education (public welfare and hospital work were the fastest-shrinking in that period).

California, New York, Massachusetts and Kansas all posted the largest five-year gains in public-sector employment, while Arizona, Nebraska, Montana and Maryland saw the greatest declines.

The source of the data, the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll, lags real time by about a year. So even though public-sector employment is already taking a hit due to the global pandemic and resulting recession, it will take time for this data set to reflect it. In the meantime, the Bureau of Labor Statistics produces more short-term numbers that offer a closer look.

Previous years of analysis: 2019, 2018, 2017

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.