Parks, Recreation, Culture, and Solid Waste Management: Census Bureau Public Employment and Payroll Data for March 2016 and March 2006 (And Related Private Employment)

When I first looked at the March 2016 employment and payroll data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau I thought I had two rare stories – New York City’s local government data moving closer to the U.S. average rather than further away.   After a couple of decades of being much lower, the city’s full time equivalent local government Parks, Recreation and Culture employment per 100,000 city residents was approaching the U.S. average.   And after decades of being 60 to 90 percent higher, New York City’s payroll per full time equivalent employment in the Solid Waste Management function was above the U.S. average by a percentage closer to what the average private sector payroll per worker in Downstate New York is above the U.S. average. Upon further consideration, and pending anything I hear back from the Bureau, however, it appears only one of those things is true.


In March 2006, New York City averaged 41 full time equivalent local government Parks, Recreation and Culture employees per 100,000 city residents, little more than half the U.S. average of 78.  The gap had been larger earlier.   But in March 2016, New York City’s employment in the category had risen to 68 FTEs per 100,000 residents, while the U.S. average had fallen to 73.   That’s a very small gap.

In the rest of New York State, local government Parks, Recreation and Culture employment fell from 65 per 100,000 residents in March 2006 – far more than NYC – to 59 in March 2016.  The decrease was from 67 to 62 in New Jersey and from 67 to 53 in Connecticut.  It appears that Parks and Recreation, like many public services, has been squeezed by soaring public employee pension, health care, debt service and Medicaid costs.   But New York City, for now, has bucked the trend.


In addition, New York City has added parks operated by non-profit corporations, whose workers don’t show up in local government employment – the Hudson River Park in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, and Governor’s Island. Other parks are operated by Business Improvement Districts.   In addition, New York City has an enormous number of private, generally non-profit Zoos, Museums, Botanic Gardens, etc.   In some other places, similar facilities may be operated be local government employees.  In New York City most of these facilities have been city-owned but operated by non-profit organizations since their founding, I found by reading the book Greater Gotham.

All in all, the private NAICS 712 Museums, Historical Sites, Zoos, and Parks industry employed 14,014 in New York City in 2016, compared with 5,838 full time equivalent local government parks workers.   NYC private employment in the category equaled 164 per 100,000 city residents, more than triple the U.S. average of 49 per 100,000 people. The rest of New York was at 47, New Jersey at 20, and Connecticut at 63.

So it appears NYC finally has its share of parks, recreation and culture, at least measured by employment.  But bear in mind that NYC residents tend to lack their own private backyards and recreation facilities, and rely far more than average on public facilities and events for exercise and entertainment.


As for state parks, the big change is in New Jersey.  In March 2006, that state had 24 full time equivalent parks workers per 100,000 state residents, but in March 2016 it had just 10.  The U.S. average, New York State, and Connecticut were the same 2016 as in 2006, at 11, 14 and 5 full time equivalent state parks employees per 100,000 residents respectively.

There was a slight dip in New York State’s state government employment per 100,000 residents in the Natural Resources category, from 18 FTE per 100,000 state residents in March 2006 to 15 in March 2016.   This category includes environmental regulation, state agriculture and forestry programs, and fish and game regulation, but the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also operates state campgrounds in competition with the state Parks Department.  The U.S. average in the Natural Resources category is much higher at 41 FTE state workers per 100,000 people, but it is also down – from 49.


While New York City has for some time been relatively low in local government Parks and Recreation employment per 100,000 residents, it has always been very high in Solid Waste Management employment.  In March 2016 NYC had 116 full time equivalent local government workers in the category per 100,000 city residents.  That is down from 129 in March 2006 but nearly four times the U.S. average of 33, down from 36.  The Rest of New York State was at 42 in 2016, up from 41 in 2006; New Jersey at 49, unchanged; and Connecticut at 30, up from 27, all much closer to the U.S. average.

On the other hand, on cannot compare NYC directly with these other areas, because very few places have solid waste picked up for free by local government employees, as New York City does for residential trash.  Some places have solid waste picked up by government workers, but charge a fee for the service.  In FY 2014, according to my compilation of Census Bureau state and local government finance data for that year, charges for services equaled 74.2% of total U.S. local government expenditures in the Solid Waste Management category.  People getting a bill for a service are likely to be far more aware of the value they getting that those just having a service lumped into a property tax bill.

Some of the expenditures elsewhere are not be for government workers.  Many local governments contract out solid waste collection to private companies.  Others simply require individual homeowners and landlords to hire their own private solid waste management companies with no government involvement. New York City does this for business solid wastes collection.


There were 400,732 private sector workers in the U.S. in the NAICS 562 Waste Management and Remediation Services industry in 2016, compared with 7,659 in New York City and 15,470 in the Rest of New York State.   That is 45 such workers per 100,000 people in the U.S., 32 in New York City, 57 in the Rest of New York State, 60 in New Jersey and 59 in Connecticut.  So New York City is lower in private carting employment.  But it isn’t lower by nearly enough to offset how high its local government employment is in the Solid Waste Management category.

I’ve tried to find a reason why NYC employment in that category is so high, but have not been able to.  Living in smaller spaces, city residents should be generating less waste per person than average, not more.  I checked to see if street sweepers were pushing up the average, but found there was not enough of them to explain more than a small fraction of the gap.


In March 2006, New York City’s payroll per full time equivalent local government worker in the Solid Waste Management category was $6,924 – after adjustment upward into $2016, which multiplied by 12 workers out to $83,088 per year.  A very rich benefit package, including retirement at age 55 after 25 years of work for the actual uniformed sanitation workers, would be on top of that.  That’s a pretty good deal in that the American Community Survey reported that the median pay per New York City resident worker with a graduate degree was $74,044 that year after adjustment upward into $2016.   In 2016, it was $75,808.   New Yorkers with just college diplomas, high school diplomas, or without high school diplomas earned less in 2016 than in 2006 after adjustment for inflation – as did total U.S. residents with graduate degrees.

In March 2006, New York City’s payroll per full time equivalent worker in this category was 70.4% higher than the U.S. average.  That’s about typical of what I’ve seen over the decades.  NYC was 74.6% above the U.S. average in March 2014, for example.  But based on the payroll reported by the Bureau for March 2016, however, NYC was just 38.6% above the U.S. average that year – high, but not extreme given that the average private sector worker in Downstate NY (excluding finance) earned 28.0% above the U.S. average.  Seems reasonable.

But doubtful.

First I checked my own download and math.  Bureau’s record did in fact have total payroll (adding full time and part time) at $56.2 million for March 2016.

33203100100000            081            9739            R            55743449            C            167            R            460881            R            25464            X            9883

The $55,743,449 is full time payroll, and the $460,881 is the part time payroll.  The 9,883 is full time equivalent employment. 33203100100000 is the identifier for the City of New York.

Next I wondered if a lower level of “snowertime” in 2016 compared with 2006 might explain the drop.  But the National Weather Service reports 0.9 inch of snow in March 2016, and 1.3 inches in March 2006.

Finally, I checked NYC budget documents from the NYC Office of Management and Budget.  They show an approved wage budget of $910 million for the Department of Sanitation in FY 2016.   Divided by 12, that equals $75.8 million, which is about what I had expected to see.  Because the total payroll figure for March 2006, according to the U.S Census Bureau, was $60.1 million (full time plus part time payroll).  Which is $71.5 million in $2016.

I’ve found plenty of errors in various data sources over the decades.  I have generally assumed they were mistakes, reported them, corrected them, and worked around them.  These days, however, conspiracy theories begin to occur to me.  I’m sure glad I don’t work for the Census Bureau – or any agency at any level of government tasked with reporting something like truthful facts to the public — right now.

1 thought on “Parks, Recreation, Culture, and Solid Waste Management: Census Bureau Public Employment and Payroll Data for March 2016 and March 2006 (And Related Private Employment)

  1. larrylittlefield Post author

    So here is the response.
    Thank you again for bringing the New York City data issue to our attention. We have discovered two processing errors, one that resulted in an under-counting of pay data in one of the major components, and one that was a minor mis-allocation of full- and part-time employment in one of the smaller components that make up the Solid Waste Management function for the March 2016 data. This was an isolated issue with this data and we have recalculated the correct data for that function for New York City for March 2016.

    This below is the original line of data from the text file:
    33203100100000 081 9739 R 55743449 C 167 R 460881 R 25464 X 9883

    This below should be the correct data for March 2016:
    33203100100000 081 9744 R 65895513 R 169 R 464903 R 24049 R 9805

    We are ensuring this error does not carry forward on the processing of data for the 2017 Census of Governments, Survey of Public Employment & Payroll that will be released this fall and we will provide any prior year revisions at a later date. Again, thank you for bringing this issue to our attention to help ensure we provide the most accurate data possible.

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