Hospitals, Social Services, and Housing: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

Health care vies with elementary and secondary education as the largest destination for federal and state government spending.  In fact, when I added it up in 2006 the federal, state and local governments were already paying for 75.0% to 80.0% of third party (insurance and public program) health care expenditures nationwide, which is to say expenditures other than co-payments and services people pay for themselves in cash (such as cosmetic surgery).  Directly (Medicare, Medicaid, the VA Hospital system) or indirectly (health insurance purchased on behalf of civilian public employees and their families, the exclusion of employer funded health insurance from taxable income, other tax breaks).

Socialized Medicine? Get Real, It’s Already Here

Since then the population has aged, leading to more Medicare and Medicaid spending, Medicaid has been expanded to more working people, and Obamacare has added another form of indirect federal support for private health insurance.  For all the discussion of “socialized medicine,” here in the U.S. the government share of third party health care expenditures is probably up to 85.0% or so, and as a percent of GDP it probably exceeds the cost of the entire health care system in developed countries.

Health care and social services, however, are provided by the government primarily through payments to private sector organizations, generally non-profits in New York City and throughout the Northeast.  Therefore in this, the fifth post based on my tabulation of state and local government employment and payroll data from the 2017 Census of Governments, data on related private sector organizations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will take center stage.   And this analysis features the most shocking trend I have found so far.

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Public Safety: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

In March 1997, New York City was very early into what would become a long decline in its crime rate.  The number of officers was inflated by thousands of extra officers hired with an extra tax surcharge under the “Safe Streets Safe City” plan under former Mayor Dinkins and his police commissioner Ray Kelly.  New York City had 42,715 full time equivalent police officers, 2.7 times as many as the US. average per 100,000 residents.  By March 2007 crime had plunged, a decrease widely credited to the “Broken Window” and “Compstat” innovations of former Mayor Giuliani, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and his successors.  The city promoted itself as the safest in the nation.  New York City had 46,776 police officers, 2.8 times the U.S. average per 100,000 residents.  In March 2017 crime had plunged further. Mayor Bill DeBlasio had been elected in part by promising to get an out of control police department back under control.  New York City had 49,477 police officers, or 2.9 times the U.S. average per 100,000 residents, though their mean pay was only slightly above the U.S. average.

So data from the various Censuses of Governments that I have tabulated over the decades has shown.  But is that really the case?  And what about the NYC Fire Department, the much-criticized NYC Corrections Department, the state prisons, and comparable agencies elsewhere in New York State, the NY metro area and country?  Are we really being told the truth about the actual reason for the plan to close the jails at Rikers Island?  Let’s take a look.

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Public Higher Education: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

The big issue in higher education, or at least the one that has been pushed in the media, is the burden of student loans.  And the explanation for this crisis that has been advanced is the rising cost of college.  According to sources deemed reliable, while tuition has soared in private colleges and universities due to an amenities arms race and a better deal for faculty, in public higher education unwilling taxpayers are to blame.

https://hbr.org/2019/09/what-will-it-take-to-solve-the-student-loan-crisis

The roots of rising college and university costs are not difficult to identify. For the nation’s 1,600-plus public institutions, the chief culprit has been major reductions in state support; public investment in higher education has been in retreat in the states since about 1980, according to the American Council on Education. State funding and subsidies were cut by more than $7 billion between 2008 and 2018. What many call the “privatization of public higher education” has shifted most of the states’ share of instructional costs to students and their families, with disruptive results for both students and institutions.

Here is another “study” saying the same thing.

https://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/rb/RB_512HJRB.pdf

I once believed it, but when whenever I looked at the available Census Bureau data on higher education finances, it didn’t fully support it. With the availability of state and local government employment and payroll data for the 2017 Census of Governments, I took another look.

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Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

The two categories of public expenditures that account for the most money are education and health care, but there is a difference in the way they are managed.  Federal, state and local government expenditures fund perhaps 80 percent of third party (not co-payment) health care expenditures, directly (Medicare, Medicaid, the VA Hospital system) or indirectly (private insurance purchased on behalf of civilian government employees, the tax expenditure subsidy due to the exclusion of health insurance payments from taxable income), if voluntary services such as cosmetic surgery and dentistry are excluded.  But most actual health care services, even services to public employees, are provided by private sector health providers, not by employees of government agencies, with the government merely paying the bill. So state and local government health care expenditures show up more completely in Census of Governments finance data, which will be published at some point in the future, than in Census of Governments employment and payroll data.

Most education services, in contrast, are provided directly by government employees.  As a result elementary and secondary school employees accounted for 55.6% of all local government employment in March 2017, on a full time equivalent basis, and higher education employees accounted for 50.8% of state government employment, for that year and on that basis.  There are also local government higher education employees in many states including New York, mostly in community colleges.   It is elementary and secondary school employment and payroll that is the subject of this post.

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Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for March 2017 (1997 and 2007)

The U.S Census Bureau conducts a Census of Governments every five years on the employment, payroll, revenues, expenditures, assets and debts of every state and local government in the country. (State-level estimates for state and local government are released in other years).   The data is reported by government function (police, schools, parks, etc.)  The Bureau recently released its employment and payroll data for March 2017, and I have spent a considerable number of hours tabulating it to get it into usable form.

I now have spreadsheets that show local government full-time equivalent employment (full time workers plus part time workers converted into full time workers based on hours worked), by function, for the United States, New York City, other areas of the state, every county in New York State and New Jersey, and other states and counties elsewhere in the country selected for comparison.  This is expressed per 100,000 residents of each area.  Selected private sector industries that are either substantially government-funded (health and social services and infrastructure construction) or a substitute for government services (private schools and automobile-related industries) are shown on the same basis.  And local government payroll per worker of each area, expressed as a percent higher or lower than the U.S average for that function, and compared with the extent that an area’s private sector earnings per worker are higher and lower than the U.S. average.  Similar data is provided for state government in for U.S. as a whole, compared with New York State, New Jersey, and other states I consider relevant.  This is a process I will repeat for the finance phase of the 2017 Census of Governments, when it is released.

As is my custom, this post will simply provide the data in tables and spreadsheets, explain where it comes from and how I tabulated it, and provide a brief overview of trends in total state and local government employment and payroll.  Function-by-function posts, with the data reorganized and charts included, will follow.  Read this post to fully understand what you are seeing.  Download the spreadsheets and look at the numbers to decide for yourself what they mean, before getting my take on them.  I’ll write more when I can.  But anyone else is free to use this information right now.

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The Equifax Settlement: This Really Ticks Me Off

I’ve been spending my time compiling employment and payroll data from the Census of Governments, and haven’t had the time to write much more than a rant otherwise.  Here comes the rant.

The Equifax settlement administrator tells me I have a choice of $125 in theory, or far less in reality, or free credit monitoring, in recompense for Equifax having failed me as their customer by providing my personal information to whoever chose to take it.  I have until November 19th to take action to stay outside the settlement and do something I have never done and never thought I would: sue someone, according to an e-mail I (and probably just about everyone else – 147 million people) have received.  So they have my e-mail address too?

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A Value Added Tax Would Be Far More Fair Than the Payroll Tax

As I showed in my prior post…

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2019/07/31/dont-increase-the-federal-payroll-tax-replace-it-with-a-value-added-tax/

The federal payroll tax on the first $132,900 in wage and salary or self- employment income, a tax that has been increased over the decades, is both unjust and economically damaging.  All the groups of people who have become richer over the past four decades, at the expense of making everyone else poorer, have either all or much of their income exempt from it.  Today’s seniors, the richest generations in U.S. history, because their retirement income is exempt from the payroll tax (they also get special exemptions from the federal and state income taxes).  The very wealthy, because investment income is exempt from the payroll tax (divided and interest are also taxed at a lower rate under the federal income tax).  And those who get very rich non-wage benefits, generally unionized public employees – all that income is exempt from both the payroll tax and income taxes.

These groups have used their political power to capture a greater and greater share of total U.S. income, while the work income of ordinary private sector workers has been going down, generation by generation. With Millennials paid 25 percent less than Baby Boomers had been at the same point in their careers.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2019/05/25/retirement-benefits-are-to-white-collar-crime-and-generational-inequity-what-handguns-are-to-street-crime/

And yet it is these less well off workers who are forced to carry the burden of Social Security and Medicare for the richer and more entitled generations that preceded them, the soaring cost of public employee pensions and health care, and the huge national debt run up by the multiple rounds for tax cuts for the rich.

So what would I propose to make federal taxes more equitable on a generational basis, and more progressive (with the better off paying more) as well? Replace the regressive, worker-only federal payroll tax with less regressive, everyone pays as they spend their money Value Added Tax (VAT).

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