Infrastructure: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data

As I noted in my overview of all federal, state and local government activity, which you can read here,

most people do not benefit from most government programs, activities and expenditures. These are instead limited to select eligible populations, based on age (public education, Medicare, Social Security), means or needs. But this post and the two after it will compare local government employment and pay levels for the sorts of general public services that could be used by anyone, some of which are used by everyone. Most of these services are provided by local governments, and are far more extensive in urban areas than in rural areas. This post is about public infrastructure – highways and streets, mass transit, and public water, sewer, electric and gas utilities along with related private sector activities. A series of charts on the subject comparing New York City with other parts of New York State, New Jersey, the U.S. average, and selected other areas may be found below.

First a reminder. To understand how this data was compiled, and to download spreadsheets with tables for all government functions and related private sector activities, go to this post:

It includes links to four spreadsheets: one for local government and related private employment in 2012, one for 2002, and one for 1992, along with a spreadsheet with state government data for all three years. The local government data includes information for every county in New York and New Jersey along with selected counties elsewhere, some states, and the national average. In some cases, however, county data could not be provided for some functions. In New Jersey, for example, mass transit is provided mostly by one agency, New Jersey Transit, and the Census of Governments, upon which these posts are based, only has statewide data.

Let’s begin our discussion with local government employment in the highway and street function. The first chart shows the number of full time equivalent workers (full timers plus part timers converted to a smaller number of full timers based on hours worked) per 100,000 area residents in March 2012.

Chart 1

The data shows that New York City had 61 local government highway and street workers per 100,000 residents at that time, less than the U.S. average of 90 and the averages for New Jersey at 102, the Downstate Suburbs at 119, the Upstate Urban Counties at 146, and the Rest of New York State at 311. Local government highway and street employment is thus high relative to population in the portions of New York State outside New York City, particularly in rural areas of the state where it is extremely high.

Employment in this category is low in New York City, even though it includes the toll takers of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, half the workers in the highway and street function of the Port Authority (I divided it up), and the Staten Island Ferry. New York City’s employment in this category is reduced by the relatively low level of highway and street space compared with its dense population, but increased by the fact that the city is built on a series of islands and has many bridges to maintain. Local government highway and street employment is also lower than the U.S. average relative to population in all the other major urban counties included in the chart for comparison, except San Francisco.

Chart 2

States also have highway departments, and these typically maintain state roads. The chart above shows state highway employment in the same scale as local government highway employment in the prior chart. For the U.S. as a whole, there are 90 local government highway and street workers and 70 state government highways workers per 100,000 residents. New York State was below the U.S. average at 58 state government highways workers per 100,000 residents. So was New Jersey at 66. In Pennsylvania, the state maintains many of the roads and streets in urban areas. Its state highways employment was 108 per 100,000 residents, above the U.S. average, while Philadelphia’s local government highway and street employment per 100,000 residents was very low at just 35. In New York City, the State of New York pays the City of New York to maintain state roads within the city’s borders.

In many cases public employees are merely supervising highway, bridge and street projects carried out by private contractors, rather than doing the work themselves. Those contractors, along with those doing transit and utility projects, are classified as part of the “Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction” (as opposed to “Building Construction” and “Special Trade Contractor”) industry. The next chart shows total employment in this industry per 100,000 residents based on data downloaded from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Chart 1a

The data shows that New York City had just 104 private sector workers in the Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction industry per 100,000 residents in 2012, far below the U.S. average of 271. Firms based in New Jersey and the Downstate Suburbs, and perhaps reporting their employment there, also engage in infrastructure work in NYC. However, Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction private employment was also below the U.S. average in the Downstate Suburbs at 162 and New Jersey at 194. Private employment in this category was also relatively low in the Upstate Urban Counties at 147, in the rest of New York State at 206, and in most of the major urban counties in the chart. It was about average in King County (Seattle), high in Dallas County, and very high in Harris County (Houston) in Texas, where some of those workers may be building refineries rather than roads and bridges.

One might expect infrastructure construction and maintenance employment to be lower (relative to population) in already built-out and populated areas such as New York City. Developed areas already have existing infrastructure in place, so less needs to be built, and a population that is already present to serve as the denominator. In developing areas, in contrast, new infrastructure needs to be built and some of the population it will serve is not yet there.

On the other hand, many developed areas have aging and obsolete infrastructure in need of replacement. Virtually the entire MTA capital budget, for example, is used to rebuild existing rail lines and replace subway cars and buses. New York City has rebuilt or replaced many of its bridges in recent years.   The U.S. may be shifting back from a predominantly auto-oriented way of life to a pedestrian and transit-oriented way of life, and this will required investment in different infrastructure – just as the shift to private automobiles did. A major aqueduct supplying the city’s water is failing and must be replaced.   So there is plenty of heavy construction and civil engineering work required in already-built parts of the U.S.

Infrastructure contractor productivity, moreover, is lower in many already developed areas such as New York City. Due to the problems of working in a dense environment. And, well, due to other factors. Thus the actual level of infrastructure expansion and maintenance in NYC, and elsewhere in New York and New Jersey, is even lower than the relatively low level of employment in the Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction industry would imply.

Chart 3

The ratio of employment in local government in the highway and street function to population, while falling slightly in the U.S., the Downstate Suburbs and the Upstate Urban Counties from 1992 to 2012, decreased significantly in New Jersey and plunged in New York City. For New York City, the figures are 161 highway and street workers (more than the U.S. average) per 100,000 residents in 1992, 79 in 2002, and just 61 in 2012. For New Jersey these figures are 155, 125, and 102 respectively.

This does not necessarily mean highway, street and bridge maintenance has decreased. Much of the decrease was in toll collectors, thanks to their replacement by EZ-Pass. Moreover the New York City Department of Transportation was a notorious pit of patronage and sloth in decades past, and it may be able to do (or oversee) the same amount or even more work today with fewer employees. The good news is the ratio of private Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction employment to population, while relatively low in NYC and New Jersey, was about the same in 2012 as it was in 2002 and 1992. For NYC, the figures are 98 workers per 100,000 residents in 1992, 105 in 2002, and 104 in 2002.

(Update:  the increase in local government highways employment from 1992 to 2002 in the Rest of New York State went unremarked in the original post.  I am now working on a post on the last few “general government” categories, and it seems there was a big DECREASE in “other and unallocable” during that period.  Evidently what had been general “Department of Public Works” employment in 1992 was more accurately allocated in 2002, leading to the increase in local government highway and street employment in the Rest of New York State.  It’s still really high, however).

Mass transit service is provided in most urban and suburban areas of the United States, but only in small amounts (a few bus routes with infrequent service and paratransit), and often by private companies under contract rather by than public employees. Large public mass transit systems, however, are found in New York City and the surrounding areas.

Chart 4

As a result New York City had 551 full time equivalent public transit workers per 100,000 residents in 2012, including both the New York City Transit portion of the MTA and one-third of the PATH system (which I divided up). The U.S. average was just 72. The figure for the Downstate Suburbs was 302 public transit workers per 100,000 residents, and that primarily includes the Long Island Rail and MetroNorth. That is more than half the NYC figure, despite not including the bus systems in the suburbs. Westchester’s Bee Line and the bus systems in Nassau and Suffolk Counties are operated by private contractors and not public employees, and thus not counted here.

New Jersey had 147 public transit workers per 100,000 residents, plus extensive private mass transit operating under contract. Unfortunately, I was unable to get data for private mass transit operators at the local level for use in comparisons. Because there are so few companies in any one county, Bureau of Labor Statistics and State Department of Labor disclosure (privacy) rules would be violated if the data were reported.

The Upstate Urban Counties were about average, collectively, with regard to their public mass transit employment per 100,000 residents. The primarily rural counties in the Rest of New York State were below average, as one might expect.

Other urban areas with extensive public transit systems also had a relatively high ratio of public transit employment to population, including Philadelphia at 223, Cook County (Chicago) at 256, and San Francisco at 622, or more than New York.  In many cases I had to use the population of the entire service area of the transit agency, rather than the population of the county where the Census Bureau reported the employment data, to get a more comparable ratio. For more detailed data specifically on mass transit, one can download my compilation of National Transit Database data, and see a series to charts with related commentary, in this post.

The high level of transit employment is a burden that taxpayers of New York City and the metropolitan area as a whole have to carry, but they save money on private automobiles. Or at least New York City residents do.

Chart 4b

As the chart above shows, NYC had only 455 private sector workers in “auto-related” industries such as wholesale and retail automobile and parts sales, gasoline stations, automotive repair, parking lots and passenger car renting and leasing. The national average was more than double at 1,261. Despite extensive public transit systems, the Downstate Suburbs and New Jersey were not much lower than the U.S. average in private “auto-related” employment at 1,073 and 1,155 per 100,000 residents respectively, while the Upstate Urban Counties and the Rest of New York were above the U.S. average at 1,322 and 1,318. Auto-related employment, as one might expect, was relatively high in Texas.

Not shown in these charts, and in fact not showing up in the data at all because most of them are self-employed rather than either public or private sector employees, are those working in the taxi, car service, and limousine industries. Perhaps the most stunning statistic I have heard in recent years is that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has about 100,000 registered drivers, more than double the 45,930 full time equivalent public transit workers for NYC in March 2012. Obviously the transit system moves vastly more people.

Chart 5

The ratio of public transit workers to population has fallen in New York City over the past 20 years, mostly because of rising population. The number of full time equivalent transit workers fell from 48,005 in 1992 to 45,930 in 2012, a decrease of 4.3%. That is despite the fact that private bus lines were active in the city in 1992, but the employees on those bus routes were counted as local government workers in 2012 after a takeover by the MTA. Meanwhile the city’s population increased from 7,428,944 in 1992 to 8,336,697 in 2012, an increase of 12.2%. The subways trains are fuller, but that doesn’t mean there are more of them running. Thus NYC public transit employment fell from 646 workers per 100,000 residents in 1992 to 598 in 2002 to 551 in 2012.

The ratio of public transit workers to population was relatively flat in the Downstate Suburbs from 2002 to 2012, despite those no longer counted as public workers in the latter year due to the privitization of Long Island Bus. Productivity gains have been pretty much absent in the suburban portions of the MTA.

Chart 5b

If New York and New Jersey Governors Cuomo and Christie are thinking they might recommend privatizing management of the airports and seaport as part of an overhaul of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, they shouldn’t bother. That step was taken long ago, and the agency employs almost no one below top management in these functions. (As the Census of Governments finance data will show when it is released later this year, NYC and NJ government expenditures in these categories are substantial, but most of it goes to contractors).

Local government workers are more involved in the management of airports and seaports (or at least the redevelopment of waterfront property in San Francisco) elsewhere. Sometimes you just have to shake your head at the data for San Francisco, which seems to have a high level of local government employment and pay in just about everything except public schools. But since the city is basically Manhattan without the rest of NYC, its residents can afford it I suppose.

Now let’s turn our attention from how many local government transportation workers there are, to how much they get paid.

Chart 6

New York City’s local government highway and street workers, while fewer in number relative to population, continue to be extremely well paid relative to those in the U.S. as a whole. While the average payroll per private sector worker in Downstate New York, excluding the overpaid financial sector, was 28.1% more than the average U.S. in 2012, the average payroll per local government highway and street worker in New York City was 73.8% above the U.S. average that year. Recall that for NYC this figure includes that Staten Island Ferry, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, and part of the Port Authority in addition to street maintenance workers at NYC DOT.

In the Downstate Suburbs payroll per local government highway and street worker was 27.0% above the U.S. average, about what you would expect given typical private sector pay that was 28.1% above the U.S. average. In New Jersey, where payroll per private sector worker was 18.1% above the U.S. average, payroll per local government highway and street worker was 12.8% above average. As is usually the case in this category government workers in Upstate New York are well paid relative to their low paid private sector neighbors. California public employees are relatively high paid relative to the private sector, and Texas public employees are relatively low paid.

Chart 7

New York City’s relatively high pay in the highway and street function is longstanding. In fact 1992, when the city’s ratio of local government workers in this category to population was above the U.S. average, its payroll per worker was about double the U.S. average. It was also about double the U.S. average in 2002. While falling somewhat relative to the U.S. average in NYC, and unchanged in the Downstate Suburbs, the average payroll per local government highway and street worker has been rising in Upstate New York. Even as average private sector pay has been falling relative to the U.S. average Upstate. The road crews and the public schools might be the most lucrative employers in that region of the state, with high levels of both local government employment and average pay.

Chart 8

The average payroll per New York City public transit worker was 22.1% above the U.S. average in March 2012, perhaps a little low given that the average private sector worker in Downstate New York earned 28.1% more than the U.S. average. Then again, NYC public transit workers have pensions that are more costly that transit workers elsewhere in the U.S. – or at least NYC taxpayers are actually paying most of that those pensions cost while taxpayers elsewhere are not. Taking the two factors together, one might say that the total compensation of NYC Transit workers was proportional to the cost of living here, as measured by what typical private sector worker earn. While the average pay of transit workers in the Downstate Suburbs, at 43.3% above the U.S. average, was high.

The New Jersey Transit figure, at 11.7% below the U.S. average, seems incorrect. National Transit Database data shows relatively high labor costs for the agency. In 1992 and some other years, NJT didn’t even provide the Census Bureau with a filled out form. Low in Texas as usual, transit worker payroll per employee is not disproportionately high in California relative to the private sector, as it often is for other types of workers.

Chart 9

I was surprised at how low average payroll per worker was for the transit function in NYC in 1992, at just 4.2% above the U.S. average. That figure has increased, relatively, since. It has also increased for the Downstate Suburbs and Upstate Urban Counties, while falling in New Jersey (where the data may not be correct).

In New York City we not only have public mass transit but also have public water and sewer service. Not everyone does. Most rural and some suburban residents rely on wells and cesspools, while others have water provided by privately-owned utilities. On the other hand, rural areas often have publicly-owned electric utilities, a residue of rural electrification efforts in the 1930s. Some have publicly-owned cable TV or telecommunications systems, a type of government activity that is starting to spread after private sector providers failed to keep the promises associated with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This type of activity may not even be captured by the Census of Governments, except under “Other and Unallocable.”

Chart 10

This chart shows the number of local government utility workers per 100,000 residents in different categories. The data shows that New York City’s water and sewer system is a model of efficiency, meeting the city’s needs with just 46 full time equivalent workers per 100,000 city residents. That is per 100,000 city residents, although the system also provides water to some parts of Westchester and sewage service to some parts of the city’s watershed. The U.S. average is 92, despite all those places without public water and sewer.

The averages are 59 in the Downstate Suburbs, 99 in the Upstate Urban Counties, 76 in the Rest of New York State where many residents have wells and/or septic systems, and 72 in New Jersey where several private water utilities also operate. New York City’s employment/population ratio in this category is also far below all the other major urban counties chosen for comparison in the chart. The highest is San Francisco at 188 local government water and sewer workers per 100,000 residents.

As for electric and gas, I recall the 1970s battles over the sale of Cleveland’s municipal electric utility, MuniLight, at a time when the city was going bankrupt. Former U.S. Representative Denis Kucinich, who led the city into bankruptcy and Mayor, was at the center of those battles. Today Philadelphia proposes to sell its municipal gas utility, a rarity in the country, to get money for its underfunded pensions. San Francisco generates some electricity from its Hetch Hetchy water system. Los Angeles also has a utility that provides both water and electricity. While there is no electric utility run by New York City, there is one run by New York State, thanks to Robert Moses. New York had 1,715 full time equivalent state government workers in the electric utility category in March 2012, down from 4,238 in October 1992.

Chart 12

Private water utilities, sewer utilities, and septic services employ just 6.5 private sector workers per 100,000 U.S. residents. Not surprisingly the primarily rural Rest of New York State is above average at 14.5, while most urban areas are below average. The Downstate Suburbs are also above average at 7.6, as is New Jersey at 8.5 and Fairfield County at 13.8. See the movie “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” for a warning about the water situation in Fairfield County.

Chart 13

New York City’s local government water and sewer workers earned 39.6% and 36.8% more than the U.S. averages for local government water and sewer workers in March 2012, relatively high levels given that the average private sector worker in Downstate New York earned just 28.1% above average if the overpaid financial sector is excluded. Given the level of productivity in NYC for this function, however, the pay level doesn’t seem that high. Pay levels are about what you’d expect relative to the private sector in New Jersey, the Downstate Suburbs, and the Rest of New York State. Water workers were high paid relative to the low paid private sector workers in the Upstate Urban Counties.

The next post will compare local government employment levels in the Parks and Culture, Natural Resources, Library and Sanitation functions, along with some related state government and private sector employment.