General Government: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data

This post will complete my series on different government functions based on employment and payroll data from the Census of Governments, for 2012 and previous years. It includes data for the kind of general government and legal workers one might generally expect to find hanging around in city and town halls and county seats, reviewing applications, keeping records and doing inspections, rather than providing services. At the local government level the functions included are, as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau, Health, Financial Administration, Other Local Government Administration, Judicial and Legal, and Other and Unallocable.

As has been the case in the past, I’ve found that for these categories combined the 384 full time equivalent local government employees per 100,000 residents in New York City was about the same as the 380 in the United States, and the 386 in the Downstate Suburbs. The 343 FTE local government workers per 100,000 residents in the Upstate Urban Counties, and the 355 in New Jersey, were somewhat lower. So there really aren’t that many differences to talk about, and this post will be shorter than the ones that preceded it.   But in the name of comprehensiveness, you’ll find a series of charts and additional commentary below .

I group these categories because they overlap. While the Health function, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, includes “provision of services for the conservation and improvement of public health, other than hospital care” it also includes “health related inspections – inspection of restaurants, water supplies, food handlers, nursing homes, agricultural standards or protection of agricultural products from disease” along with animal control. In the “Other and Unallocable” category, similarly, one finds “protective inspection and regulation” and “code enforcement” among other things.

The “Central Staff Services” included with “Other Government Administration” includes not only our local politicians and their personal staffs but also clerks, recorders, and planning and zoning agencies. And while state courts and prosecutors in the “Judicial and Legal” category deal with criminal law and major civil lawsuits, local courts typically handle cases dealing with local ordinances. Parking and noise tickets for example.

Local 2012

As the first chart shows, New York City’s local government employment per 100,000 residents was somewhat below the U.S. average in the Financial Administration, Other Government Administration functions, with the latter including Central Staff, and in Judicial and Legal Category. Perhaps because are so few local government entities within the city’s boundaries, mostly just one – the City of New York , whereas elsewhere there may be county, town, and municipal governments, each with their own officials.

On the other hand, New York City is above average in Public Health. The city’s Health Department does work that is undertaken by state health departments elsewhere. NYC is also above average in “Other and Unallocable.” The latter includes agencies that provide services to other agencies, such as New York City’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services, Economic Development, Job Training, and other activities smaller places may not have separate agencies for. The key point about “Other and Unallocable” in NYC is that the category accounts for a small share of the city’s public employees, but (as we will see later this year) a large share of its spending. That is because a large share of the benefit (health and pension costs) of workers in other agencies ends up in the category in Census Bureau finance data. Some have mistakenly assumed that miscellaneous small agencies such as the city’s Department of Aging and Board of Elections somehow add up to a large share of city spending, grouped as “Other,” but as the employment data show that is not so.

While New York City’s local government employment is about average in these bureaucratic categories combined, employment in the primarily rural counties in the Rest of New York State is well above average at 557 local government full time equivalent workers per 100,000 residents. In particular, the 158 FTEs per 100,000 residents in the “Other Government Administration” category is far above the U.S. average of 71. Even though Census of Governments data shows that many local government workers in this category in the Rest of NY State are part time workers. This is the result of a large number of small governments serving a smaller population. Local government public health employment is also relatively high in the Rest of New York State. Perhaps government workers provide more services in rural areas, where private doctors are thinner on the ground.

Fairfield County has far fewer local government workers per 100,000 residents than average in these general government categories, and none in the Judicial and Legal function. Perhaps because Connecticut has no county governments, with activities undertaken by counties (or the City of New York) elsewhere are taken care of by the State of Connecticut in that state. Since the southern New England states are small, state governments do more of the work there, as the state capital is never that far away.

Chart 2

The chart for 2002 is similar to the chart for 2012, with one exception. In the Upstate Urban Counties and New Jersey total local government employment in these general government categories combined was somewhat less than NYC and the U.S. average in 2012, but was about the same as NYC and the U.S. average in 2002. Ongoing fiscal crises have meant that there has been some reduction in local bureaucracies in the Upstate Urban Counties and New Jersey in recent years, relative to population.

Chart 3

There was an even bigger drop in New York City and the primarily rural counties in the Rest of New York State from 1992 to 2002. For NYC the cutbacks were across the board, possibly because the same number of civil servants were servicing a growing population. This is consistent with reductions in NYC local government employment per 100,000 residents in most other categories, as shown in prior posts. But cutbacks were greatest in the “Other Government Administration” category, presumably a result of streamlining by the Giuliani Administration during the 1990s fiscal crisis. NYC had 69 full time equivalent local government workers in the “Other Government Administration” category in 1992 but just 39 in 2002 (and 38 in 2012). New York City’s “bureaucracy” was never all that big relative to its population, and it is small now.

In the Rest of New York State, on the other hand, local government employment per 100,000 residents increased from 1992 to 2002 in the Public Health, Financial Administration, Other Government Administration, and Judicial and Legal Categories. But this was more than offset by a plunge of 215 FTEs per 100,000 residents in the “Other and Unallocable” category. That may be due to nothing more than accurate reporting. “Other and Unallocable” category includes general Departments of Public Works agencies among other things. While local government employment in this category fell by 215 from 1992 to 2002 in the Rest of New York State, it increased by 115 in the other general government categories combined and by 90 in the Highways function. Adding all these together there was virtually no change over 10 years.

Let’s briefly review what local government workers in these general government categories earned in March 2012.

Local Payroll

As noted in prior posts some areas – notably Downstate New York and New Jersey – have higher average private sector wages and higher costs of living. This needs to be taken account when evaluating how much local government workers earn in different categories, relative to the U.S. average. Excluding the overpaid finance sector, payroll per private sector worker was 28.1% above the U.S. average in Downstate New York, shown by the line in the chart.

As one would expect, local government workers in these general government categories also earned more than the U.S. average in Downstate New York. They also earned more in many cases in New York City than in the Downstate Suburbs, something not true in many other categories of local government employment. Payroll per worker was particularly high in NYC, relative to the U.S. average, in the “Other and Unallocated” category, although that may be a function of what type of workers are in the category in NYC vs. the U.S.

In Upstate New York, where payroll per private sector worker is below the U.S. average, payroll per local government worker is generally also below average in these general government categories. As shown earlier, that is not the case for Elementary and Secondary Education, where an above average payroll per worker Upstate is funded by state aid via taxes collected Downstate. These general government categories show what Upstate governments pay, relative to the U.S. average, when local taxpayers have to come up with the money themselves.

Just for the sake of comprehensiveness, the next three charts are on the state government bureaucracy rather than local government. In addition to Financial Administration, Other Administration, “Other and Unallocable” and Judicial and Legal, the functions examined include “Other Education.” That function basically includes state education departments which oversee, but do not provide, education.

State Emp

New York State had 23 full time equivalent state government employees per 100,000 residents in the “Other Education” category, below the U.S. average of 27, the 31 in New Jersey and the 35 in Pennsylvania. Massachusetts was lower at 17, and Connecticut much higher at 76, perhaps because the state government provides some elementary and secondary schooling there in addition to oversight.

In the other general bureaucratic categories New York’s state government employment per 100,000 residents is above the U.S. average relative to population, but not to a great degree.

State Judge

When it comes to the state courts, district attorneys, attorney general and other related activities, on the other hand, New York’s 97 state workers per 100,000 residents was well above the U.S. average of 54 in 2002. The nearby small states, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut were higher still, with Pennsylvania lower.

State Pay

It is hard to evaluate the pay of New York’s state workers in these categories, relatively to the U.S. average, because one doesn’t know where they are – in low cost Upstate New York or in high-cost Downstate New York. What one can say is that New York’s pay per state government employee in the Judicial and Legal category, at 30.1% above the U.S. average, would be in proportion to the private sector in Downstate New York, and really high Upstate. So perhaps the low judicial pay issue for New York State was not as bad as public discourse would have implied. Or perhaps the big judicial raise awarded in 2011 was substantially received by March 2012, and alleviated what had been a low pay level.

Among nearby states, only in Pennsylvania was state payroll per employee higher in the Judicial and Legal Category, and the small number of workers in this category there implies that perhaps only the appeals courts qualify as “state government” with other courts all counting as “local government.”

Thus concludes my graphical overview of data it took me 80 hours to compile. That data, and the posts with the charts, will remain relevant for the next five years until the next Census of Governments. You can still do my heart good and download ALL the data, in a series or printable tables for local governments in 2012, 2002, 1992 and all three years for state governments, here.

Download it, print out the tables, and make up your own mind.

What is my general impression of this data?

For someone like me, and perhaps someone who would look at the data and read the posts provided by someone like me, the purpose of public spending is to provide public services and benefits to the general public. That could require more public employees if the population is going up, but should require fewer (given the productivity gains expected of everyone else) if the population is stagnant or going down. But to the public employee unions and politicians, the purpose of public spending is to provide income sources to dues paying members and political supporters. Public services are a means to an end, at most. Since public employment represents a “deal” it may not respond to changes in population, the demand for services, or the ability of taxpayers to pay much at all.

In this context, population growth has its advantages. New York City’s population increased from 7.4 million in 1992 to 8.3 million in 2012, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, while its local government employment fell slightly from about 420,000 to about 408,000 “full time equivalent.” As a result the level of local government employment – and its burden on taxpayers – fell substantially relative to population in almost all the government functions covered by the past few posts, although this advantage was more than offset by soaring public employee pension costs.

In many cases the existing workforce, perhaps previously less productive, has been able to provide the same or better services despite falling employment relative to population. Eventually, however, if soaring retirement benefits continue to prevent workforce expansion in proportion to population, services will deteriorate – as they did in the city’s schools in the 1990s when enrollment rose and the number of teachers did not.

In Upstate New York, on the other hand, the population was virtually the same in 2012 as it was in 1992, and private sector pay per employee had fallen steeply relative to the U.S. average. Even so, local government employment increased, pushing up local government employment relative to population. Absent population and income growth, the cost of all those jobs for those who needed jobs has been a crushing burden, one partially shifted to the future and partially shifted to the people of New York City. As more and more of the states localities face population decline, it is worth remembering how much of a fiscal disaster that can be. The number of public employees doesn’t necessarily go down proportionally. The number of retired public employees does not go down at all.