Infrastructure: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

This series of posts based on Census of Governments state and local government employment and payroll data for March 2017 (and 2007 and 1997) continues with a post on infrastructure functions:  highways and streets, mass transit, air transportation, water transportation, government-run electric and gas utilities, water supply, sewerage, and solid waste management.  Along with related private sector activity.  When I joined New York City Transit out of graduate school in 1986, I was told it was the largest industrial/blue collar employer in New York City.  It probably still is, with the other functions described adding as many blue collar jobs, and jobs with contractors many more.

In the past 10 years or so, subway riders have experienced a drastic decrease in their quality of life despite rising fares, relative to the very low inflation of the period.  This is something I have attributed to costs from the past – the big pension increase in 2000, with huge costs deferred until later, and decades of zero state and city funding for the MTA capital plan, with money borrowed instead.  But after reviewing the data for these functions, I have begun to wonder if even worse is coming. And not just at the MTA. But we will have water!

As a reminder, the first post in this series described where the data came from and how it was tabulated, and included links to spreadsheets with data for far more states and areas than I will be able to analyze in the posts on individual government functions.  That post is here.

Specifically, the post describes that the measure available for local government that is most fairly comparable across the country is one that adds up the employment of all the local governments in a county, and divides them by the county population.  For multi-county mass transit agencies, however, I used data from the Federal Transit Administration, National Transit database to divide their employment by the service area population instead.  And in New York State, where data for almost local transit services outside NYC Transit is aggregated to a single “state government” number, I used NTD data to allocate it to different parts of the state.

I did not make similar adjustments for other government services.  But airports located in one county generally serve entire metropolitan areas.   And some government-run water and sewer utilities may be headquartered in one county, but have customers elsewhere.  The data on full time equivalent employment per 100,000 county residents thus comes with that caveat.

While every locality has teachers and police, the extent of infrastructure varies from place to place.  Some places have public water, public sewers, public transit, and government-run trash collection, and others do not.

Moreover, utilities are publicly-owned and operated in some places, and privately owned and operated, but regulated, in others.  The governments division of the Census Bureau defines transit agencies as “utilities,” since most transit systems were originally built by private companies in public-private partnerships.  Today they are almost all publicly owned, and the rest of publicly subsidized.  Nationwide, the private Urban Transit Systems industry employed 48,500 workers in 2017.  That compares with 251,783 full time equivalent workers (full timers plus part times converted into a smaller number of full timers based on hour worked) in state and local government run Mass Transit utilities.

Meanwhile, all other Utilities in the private sector employed 551,935 people that year, including 50,216 in the Water, Sewerage and Other Systems industry.  For state and local government, the state and local government total was about 289,960 full time equivalent employees in the Water Supply Utility and Sewerage function combined, but just about 88,400 FTEs for public electric and gas utilities.

A spreadsheet with reorganized tables for infrastructure functions alone, and all the charts used in this post, is here.


For March 2017, a picture of a table for full time equivalent employment per 100,000 residents is here.


And a picture of a table that shows the extent to which mean payroll per FTE was higher or lower than the U.S. average is here.

The discussion begins with the infrastructure function that, like police and elementary and secondary schools, every locality in the U.S. has – Highways, including local streets, bridges, and ferries.

The division of work between state highway departments and local governments varies from state to state, but adding it up just about everywhere in the Northeast is above average in full time equivalent employment per 100,000 residents.  The U.S. average was 151 in March 2017, with New York State at 189, New Jersey at 175, and Connecticut at 180.

For state government alone, the 57 FTEs per 100,000 residents for New York State is below the U.S. average of 66.  Almost none of those state workers are in New York City, however, and New York City accounts for about 45 percent of the state’s population. Instead the State of New York pays the City of New York to maintain state roads within the city’s boundaries. That’s why NYC DOT, and not NY State DOT, is taking the lead on the reconstruction of the BQE under Brooklyn Heights.


Despite these added responsibilities, despite all the vehicular traffic that passes though NYC on the way to Long Island, despite being a city of islands with many major bridges to operate and maintain, New York City’s local government Highway and Street employment totaled just 82 FTE’s per 100,000 residents in March 2017, below the U.S. average of 85, below the average for the Downstate Suburbs at 112, about half the average for the Upstate Urban Counties at 154, and far below the average for the rural and small town Rest of New York State at 301.

While NYC local government Highway and Street employment is below average relative to population, it is not below average per square foot paved.  Dense central cities are particularly efficient in that regard, with a high level of population and economic activity for each foot of street space and water or sewer pipe, a point made by Johnny at his Granola Shotgunblog.

Teachers, Pipes, and Pavement

Here’s what the historic downtown looks like. From a municipal accounting standpoint there’s a small amount of public infrastructure serving a good deal of private taxable property. This is a financially stable arrangement.

Compared with the high expense of suburban development, Johnny believes that rural areas are also financially sustainable, but for a different reason.

Step just outside the city limits to some of the properties in the nearby unincorporated county. This farm has its own private well and septic system. This form of land use requires almost no public infrastructure at all. It may rely on the adjacent county road, but if the county ran into serious financial difficulties and let this road revert to gravel the farm would continue on more or less unfazed (with a bit of pissing and moaning, of course.) A rural land use pattern is very cost effective. Taxes are low and so are government obligations.

But not, it seems, in Upstate New York, which has a sky-high number of local government FTEs in the Highways function to go along with the vast majority of New York State Highways workers, who are also located there.


I’ve tried to come with a reason why upstate road employment could possibly be that high.  Is it the need to plow all the snow in the Snowbelt?  This time around I took the extra effort to compile data on states such as Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota and Michigan, previously ignored since they irrelevant to NYC, to find out.  No dice.

Could some of the employment tabulated as local government Highways employment upstate actually be something else?  Many small places have multi-function “Departments of Public Works,” and all the employment data may end up in Highways, instead of being divided up.  I noted that there is very little local government Parks and Recreation employment in Chenango County, but there are village greens and a county park there.  Perhaps adding in Parks and Recreation employment might show the Rest of New York State to be less sky-high?  Nope.


Most other major urban counties around the country also have below average, or just average, Highway & Street employment per 100,000 residents. In large part because they have more people per square foot of asphalt.  Philadelphia is especially low in part because it is too broke to maintain its local streets, and in part because the State of Pennsylvania maintains the major streets within the city.

Chart2dMost affluent suburban counties around the country I selected for comparison with New York’s Downstate suburbs also have below average Highway and Street employment per 100,000 residents.  Whereas NY’s Downstate Suburbs have an above average number of local government employees in the category.

Granola Shotgun  believes the maintenance and replacement of infrastructure in the suburbs is going to turn into yet another government fiscal disaster.  Much of the suburban infrastructure was built with federal and state money, taxed out of cities, but he does not expect a repeat — although with the Biden Administration, that is in fact what may occur.  Cities paying for their own decline, again, to bail out suburbs.

All across America local governments have become dependent on state and federal transfer funds to pay for things that used to be covered by local revenue. Those external funding sources are becoming increasingly unreliable. At a certain point locals are going to need to pay their own bills again – one way or another…

The suburban development pattern has a massive amount of very expensive elongated public infrastructure compared to relatively skimpy taxable value. This is a monumental municipal money suck with no end in sight.

If you think commercial property and sales taxes will pay ever higher rates to plug the growing gap you don’t know chain retailers or manufacturers very well. They actually work the system to pay as little tax as possible while squeezing subsidies out of pro-business local governments and economic development programs. They’ll pick up and move in a heartbeat and leave behind a trail of empty concrete boxes on the side of the road.

The problem with the suburban development pattern, according to this source, is not that it is ugly.  The problem is once the infrastructure has to be replaced on a local dime, it is insolvent.  And like NYC in the 1970s, much of the post-war suburban infrastructure in the U.S. will be approaching and passing its replacement date soon – all at a time when the public cost of the retired – federal, state and local — is soaring as well.


Like other parts of New York State outside New York City, local government Highway and Street employment in the Upstate Urban Counties is not only well above the U.S. average but also above the other urban counties across the country that I had selected for comparison.  Whether that is because Upstate roads, bridges and streets are better maintained, or because of inefficiency and featherbedding, I am not in a position to say.  I do know, however, that the roads in Wayne County, Michigan, including Detroit, are in bad shape.

With growing fiscal stress, and shifts of funds to other priorities, state government Highways employment has been falling per 100,000 people.  The nationwide decrease was 27.5% from March 1997 to March 2017, with a decrease of 24.5% in New York State, 26.0% in New Jersey, 22.4% in Connecticut and 43.4% in Massachusetts.


Local government Highway & Street employment also fell from 1997 to 2017 when measured per 100,000 residents, nationwide and in most places, but by a lesser extent, and mostly only starting after 2007.  The decrease over 20 years was 18.2% in the U.S., 13.6% in New York City, 11.5% in the Downstate Suburbs, 3.5% in the Upstate Urban Counties, 4.1% in the Rest of New York State, 19.4% in New Jersey, 24.5% in Fairfield County, 12.7% in the rest of Connecticut, and 13.9% in Massachusetts.  The problem for many places is that the taxpaying population is shrinking, but the same square feet of pavement still have to be maintained.

New York’s state government Highways workers don’t seem to be particularly overpaid compared with state Highways workers elsewhere, and with NY’s private sector.  The mean earnings (including benefits) per private sector worker (including the self employed) in New York State were 12.0% above the U.S. average in 2017. The mean March payroll per FTE state government Highways workers was just 4.9% above average that year.

As noted, however, most NY state government Highways workers are located in Upstate NY, where the average private sector worker earns less than the U.S. average.  From 2007 to 2017, moreover, median wages and salaries fell after adjustment for inflation, just about everywhere, at all education levels, as I showed here.

The mean payroll per New York State Highways FTE also fell over that decade, by 4.7% in New York State and 7.4% in New Jersey.

Multiplying the March mean PPE by 12, you get a 12-month cash pay figure of $61,488 for New York State and $63,975 in New Jersey.

While New York City’s local government Highway & Street FTEs may not have been particularly numerous compared with the U.S. average, their cash pay was relatively high. The mean earnings (including benefits) per private sector worker (including the self employed) in New York Metropolitan Area (excluding Wall Street) was 21.4% above the U.S. average.  The mean March payroll per FTE local government Highway & Street worker was 56.2% above the U.S. average in NYC that year, and 31.1% above average in the Downstate Suburbs.  Based on a similar comparison, Upstate local government Highway & Street workers were also high-paid compared with their private sector neighbors, in both urban and rural areas, because private sector workers earn less than the U.S. average there.

Unlike the mean payroll per FTE employee for New York’s state government Highways workers, the mean for local government Highway & Street workers increased faster than inflation in all parts of NY State – and nationwide – from 2007 to 2017.  Multiplied by 12, the mean March Payroll per FTE came to $60,895 for the Upstate Urban Counties and $55,855 for the Rest of New York State.  It was $85,614 for New York City, and $71,853 for the Downstate Suburbs.


While everyplace has highways and streets, most places in the U.S. don’t have much mass transit, and virtually none have as much as NYC. Census Bureau Mass Transit employment data is a little dodgier, since I had to allocate part of New York State government in the category to Connecticut (Metro North), and part to New York City (because of the Metro North and LIRR stations in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn), and then divide the rest between the Downstate Suburbs and Upstate Urban Counties.   I did this allocation using data from the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit database, as noted.

Best as I can determine, while the U.S. had about 77 Mass Transit FTE’s per 100,000 people, New York City had 618.  The Downstate Suburbs, at 173, the Upstate Urban Counties, at 116, New Jersey at 142 and Fairfield County at 273 were far above average as well. Mass transit is a big part of what makes this region what it is.


New York City’s mass transit employment is high even when compared with other major urban counties across the country.  Only San Francisco, a city with a much smaller population that is a veritable living museum of mass transit (with cable cars, traditional streetcars, light rail, diesel buses, electric “trackless trolley” buses, the high-tech BART metro, Caltrans commuter rail and many ferries) has more full time equivalent local government Mass Transit function employees 100,000 residents.  Most major urban counties have less than half as much.


NYC residents have to pay for all those local government Mass Transit workers, in fares and taxes, but they save money by being able to own fewer motor vehicles.   For the U.S. as a whole, there are 1,372 private sector workers employed per 100,000 people in what I call auto-related industries (other than manufacturing):  motor vehicle & parts sales, wholesale & retail, gasoline service stations, auto repair & maintenance, & parking.   In New York City there are just 480.

The Downstate Suburbs, at 1,197 employed in auto-related industries per 100,000 residents, New Jersey at 1,244, and Fairfield County at 1,079, are also below the U.S. average.  But not by much.  The suburban development pattern seems to require almost as many vehicles per household here as elsewhere, in part because while a majority of city residents can walk to a bus or subway, most suburban residents have to drive to a commuter rail station.  They use mass transit only because it is so difficult and expensive to drive to and park in Manhattan.  The suburban development pattern is thus expensive for individual households as well as for local governments.  Or at least it has been.


With all the transit service and maintenance cuts across the country, even as ridership increased during the early 2010s, I would have expected a big decrease in FTE Mass Transit employment per 100,000 residents for recent years.  But that did not happen.  Not nationally, and not in NYC, where the small decrease was due to rising population, not falling employment.  So what did happen?

The only semi-reasonable explanation I have heard is that the data is wrong because the MTA cooked the books, putting positions in the budget so it would seem like there were no cutbacks, but then leaving them unfilled as workers retired, to save money.   The result was a cutback in scheduled maintenance and service.

The other possibility is that after New York City Transit froze manager salaries in the wake of the financial crisis, for years, managers stopped managing and workers stopped doing the maintenance they were assigned, over and above the planned reductions.

The MTA board voted to lay off another 210 token booth clerks, bringing this year’s job cuts to about 3,400. 

The board also authorized public hearings on a plan to raise fare and toll revenues by 7.5%, a level the MTA, Gov. Paterson and the state Legislature agreed upon during funding negotiations last year.

The MTA lost about $900 million in anticipated revenues in large part because of state funding cuts and declining tax revenues, officials said.

“This is not a situation that we’ve created,” Walder said. “It’s a situation occurring because our subsidies have not been there and money has been taken from us by the state.”

An MTA spokesman pointed out the agency is not asking union workers to take pay cuts and has frozen administrative salaries, including Walder’s. An arbitrator granted transit workers a 4% raise last year and this year.

Whatever reduction in force occurred, it seems to have been reversed by March 2017.  Even so, the reliability of service has not come close recovering.  The MTA now compares subway reliability only with the past decade, not with the period around 2000.  And now, they might cut maintenance again, because our elected officials find other things — almost everything else — to be more important.

As of March 2017, the mean payroll per FTE public Mass Transit worker in New York City was 22.3% above the U.S. average.  That looks pretty spot on, given that the mean earnings (including benefits) of metro New York private sector workers (including the self-employed, excluding Wall Street) was 21.4% above the U.S. average.

On the other hand, the mean payroll per public Mass Transit worker in the Downstate Suburbs was a sky high 59.9% above the U.S. average. Since most of the suburban counties contract out their bus system to private companies, we’re basically looking at data for Metro North and the Long Island Railroad.  While the average private sector worker in New Jersey earned 14.8% above the U.S. average, on the other hand, the average public Mass Transit worker there was paid 4.4% below the U.S. average at the time.  That would be New Jersey Transit.

In almost every case, California provides public services with far fewer public employees relative to New York, but California’s mean payroll per such employee tends to be very, very high.  But California’s Mass Transit pay per worker is not high, at 3.3% below the U.S. average in Los Angeles County and just 18.1% above the U.S. average in San Francisco, a very expensive place.

From 2007 to 2017, while the pay of most private sector workers fell behind inflation, the pay of public transit workers in New York and New Jersey did not.  The U.S. average mean payroll per FTE for Mass Transit worker fell 3.2% from March 2007 to March 2017, but it increased 10.2% for the City of New York (New York City Transit) and 26.5% for the State of New York (MetroNorth, the LIRR, and Upstate transit agencies). The increase in New Jersey was 1.0%.

In the public discussion of various transit contracts, there was no indication that average MTA pay per worker was rising that much overall, adjusted for inflation – even as the pay of non-union MTA employees was frozen for much of the period, and fell behind inflation.  The only indication we heard was long after the fact, in the New York Times series on the transit system.

Even in the face of the financial crisis and budget shortfalls, the M.T.A. has given concession after concession to its main labor union.  Members of the Transport Workers Union got a total of 19 percent in pay raises between 2009 and 2016, compared with 12 percent for the city’s teachers union over the same period.

The Consumer Price Index increased 14.3% during the time period, with the wages of most workers falling behind the CPI, in some categories significantly.

The labor contracts also gave members lifetime spousal health benefits and free rides on the Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road. (They already were allowed to ride the subway for free.)  According to a former union president, John Samuelsen, the organization has secured better deals over the past eight years than any other public labor group in New York.

“I look back with satisfaction on what, together, we have accomplished,” Mr. Samuelsen said in a September letter announcing that he was becoming the union’s international president.

Each of three deals signed from 2009 to 2017 cost more than the M.T.A. anticipated, forcing it to take money from other parts of the budget. The 2014 deal, which cost $525 million, was funded by tapping into a pay-as-you-go account that was intended to pay for capital work, former officials said.

Subway workers now make an average of $170,000 annually in salary, overtime and benefits, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the federal Department of Transportation. That is far more than in any other American transit system; the average in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington is about $100,000 in total compensation annually.

However the big cost increases were, according to the Census of Governments, on the commuter railroads, not on the New York City subway.  It seems whenever the press reports about a labor abuse or mis-management issue on the commuter railroads, the culprit is “the MTA” — which includes the NYC subway. Whereas if the problem is with the city services, the culprit is specifically New York City Transit.

On the commuter railroads I fear there are stealth pay increases, through out of control overtime and lots of “career ladder” non-work higher-paid positions created.  The kind Bill DeBlasio agreed to create so teachers could get out of the classroom even as class sizes remain high.

The next question is, how much of that added pay went to workers in the their last few years on the job, inflating their pension by inflating the pay on which it is based?  That pension is based on the highest three years of pay.  All these workers, in fact almost all of those who work in the functions described in this post, get to retire with a full pension (half-pay) at age 55 after just 25 years of work in New York State.  That is more years in retirement, on average, than years worked.

If one such worker is paid an extra $1 per year for their last three years worked, therefore, it doesn’t cost $3.   It costs $3 plus another 50 cents per year in higher pension benefits, perhaps $12.50-plus overall.   And that’s if late career pension spiking is planned for, and pre-funded. Otherwise, that extra money goes flying out of the pension fund and never earns an investment return. In ten years, unless the MTA catches up, the cost thus doubles to an extra $25.00 for that $3 in overtime or late career promotion money.  In 20 years, it doubles again to $50.  All while today’s pols just put up the $3 in cash pay in return for political support.

As in most cases with regard to NYC public employees, it isn’t the wages and salaries that are really excessive compared with the serfs, but rather that cost of their benefits.  Multiplied by 12, the March 2017 mean cash payroll per employee for City of New York mass transit workers came to $89,017 per year.  If the NY Times figure of $170,000 in wages and benefits is correct, that is little more than half the compensation total including benefits.

State of New York Mass Transit workers, including the presumably lower paid workers in Upstate transit agencies, were paid an average of $106,600, if the March payroll per FTE is multiplied by 12.  Which means those who work for the LIRR and Metro North are paid more still.  For comparison, the mean cash pay per worker for Queens county private sector workers in Scheduled Air Transportation industry was $86,884 in 2017, according to Employment and Wages data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Speaking air transportation, I’m not going to discuss the local government Air Transportation and Water Transportation functions, airports and seaports, in much detail as part of the employment and payroll phase of the Census of Governments.  Most airports are operated by private companies under contract, and the only public employees that show up in the Census of Governments are those who oversee the contracts.  The government finances data, including money spent on the contracts as well as public employees, is more telling.

Transportation Infrastructure: 2017 Census of Governments Data

The data for San Francisco, Miami-Dade and Suffolk County (Boston) given an indication of how many public workers there would be if public workers were doing the work.

I’m also not going to spend a lot of time on state and local government electric and gas utilities, because in cities and metropolitan areas most such utilities are in the private sector.  The City of Philadelphia has one of the few large public sector gas utilities left.  Public sector electric utilities are generally found either in rural areas, where they were set up under the federal rural electrification program, or in the West, where the same agencies often combine water and electric projects.

The U.S. average is 24 FTE state and local government electric utility workers per 100,000 residents, with 22 for local government and 2 for the states.  The local government average is 32 for California, 32 for San Francisco, and 70 for Los Angeles. In New York State, there are 9.2 state government electric utility workers per 100,000 residents, due to the New York Power Authority.  The portions of Upstate NY outside the Upstate Urban Counties averaged 8 local government electric utility workers per 100,000 people, with a high of 67 in Hamilton County, in the Adirondacks.


While most electric and gas utilities are private, however, most water and sewer utilities are public.  Full time equivalent local government employment in the Water Supply and Sewerage functions combined totaled 89 per 100,000 people nationwide in March 2017. But the figure for New York City was just 47, barely more than half.

NYC has relatively fewer workers in these categories even though everyone in the city gets NYC water and is served by NYC sewers, following the takeover of the private Jamaica Water Company (which had used well water) in 1996, and the completion of Staten Island’s sewer system, in areas previously served by cesspools, in recent decades.  And the NYC Water Board also supplies water to many communities in Westchester County.  NYC’s water and sewer system is the most efficiently provided public service in the city, and it isn’t close.  Past investments are part of the reason.  So is the city’s density – there are more people served per 1,000 feet of water or sewer pipe here, compared with the suburbs.

In the U.S. as a whole many people rely on well water and cesspools, generally in rural areas, on private water companies, and on privately run sewerage treatment plants build by developers and operated by homeowners associations in new, large-scale developments.  When comparing the Northeast with other areas, the reader should bear in mind that in places such as Florida people other than local government employees may be maintaining the streets and other infrastructure.  It would not surprise me if Sumter County, Florida, where The Villages is located, has very few local government infrastructure employees per 100,000 residents.  All those operating and maintaining the development work for the company.

Some people still rely on wells and cesspools  even in some of the Downstate Suburbs, which averaged 57 local government Water Supply and Sewerage workers per 100,000 residents in March 2017 – more than the 47 for NYC.  In Suffolk County, leaks from private cesspools are polluting Long Island Sound and causing toxic algae blooms.

NYC has fewer local government Water Supply and Sewerage FTE than the 96 in the Upstate Urban Counties, the 70 in the Rest of NY State, and the 70 in New Jersey.  In Fairfield County, when Mr. Blandings built his dream house in the 1948 movie he had to sink his own water well.  And there isn’t much local government Water Supply and Sewerage employment in that county even today.

Chart4bAlthough I the measures are different – total employment with each worker counted as one, compared with full time equivalent employment – I used the same scale to show the lower level of private sector Water, Sewer, and Septic Service employment per 100,000 residents.  Fairfield County is below average in private employment in this category as well, but the Rest of Connecticut, the Rest of New York State, and New Jersey are above average.  New Jersey has many private water utility companies, among which New Jersey American Water is the largest with about 2.7 million people served.

In Newark, a public water utility is facing a lead water crisis, and planning a large-scale water main replacement program.  Granola Shotgun described similar program in Rockford, Illinois.

Rockford has 850 miles of water pipes. It costs between $1.5 – $2.5 million dollars per mile to dig up and replace those pipes. The current city budget has allocated enough money for three or four miles of water main to be replaced per year. Stop. Think. 850 divided by 4 is 212 years.

In reality the city is actually only replacing a single mile of pipe per year since most of the budget gets redirected to whack-a-mole style emergency repairs instead. So in practice the city of Rockford will get around to replacing all its pipes in 850 years. The life expectancy of these pipes is 70 years – and many pipes are already that old, or close to it. Rockford isn’t some unique basket case. Rockford is absolutely typical of almost every town in the nation.

Chart4cNew York City’s local government Water Supply & Sewerage FTEs per 100,000 residents is not only lower than the U.S. average, it is also lower than other major urban counties.  Government-run water utilities are, in fact, utilities that can serve areas outside the place where they are headquartered.  The Census of Governments counts the employment of the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District in the city, but the agency serves the whole metro area.


New York’s Downstate Suburbs seem about average compared with other affluent suburban counties around the country, with regard to employment in this category.  In the West, however, obtaining water is far more of a logistical challenge that it is here.

Chart4eThe City of Cleveland’s water department provides water to much of Northeast Ohio, but its employment is only divided by the population of Cuyahoga County in the chart.  The local government Sewerage employment for St. Louis County is tabulated in the City of St. Louis, as noted.  But local government Water Supply and Sewerage employment in the Upstate Urban Counties is otherwise similar to other urban Rustbelt counties.

Chart3dDespite all the water and sewer infrastructure approaching the end of its useful life in post-WWII suburbs, and past the end of its useful life in older central cities, full time equivalent Water Supply and Sewerage employment per 100,000 residents is falling in the U.S. as a whole, and in most parts of it. The 1997 to 2017 decrease was 11.4% for the U.S., 20.8% for the Downstate Suburbs, 12.8% for the Upstate Urban Counties, 60.6% for Fairfield County, 5.3% for the Rest of Connecticut, 14.9% for Massachusetts, 17.3% for California, 27.8% for Texas, 16.9% for Illinois, and 28.0% for Minnesota.  I don’t imagine the trend is any different for private sector water, sewer, electric and gas utilities.  When the City of New York took over the Jamaica Water Supply Company, its infrastructure was in bad shape.

There was a 4.6% increase for the rural Rest of New York State, but because the population fell, not because the number of workers increased.  Pennsylvania and North Carolina also show small increases.

There was a decrease of 2.2% for New York City, but only because the population increased, not because the number employed fell.  Rising population and employment have allowed NYC to fund its Water Supply and Sewerage infrastructure with less of a ratepayer burden per person and job.

Higher densities – allowing one-family homes to be converted to two-family homes for example – would allow existing infrastructure and workers elsewhere to serve more people as well.  The shift to urban redevelopment from “drive to you qualify” exurban sprawl over the past decade may mean fewer utility workers were required per 100,000 people.

Whether utilities are run by the government or private companies, whenever large scale construction or reconstruction of water, sewerage, flood control, seaport, airport, electric, gas, road, bridge, or transit infrastructure is required, most of the work will likely be done by private companies in the Heavy and Civil Construction industry.


In 2017 that industry employed 301 workers per 100,000 people nationwide.  New York City was at just over one-third that level, at 105.  Many of the construction companies that build things in NYC are headquartered elsewhere in the metro area, and have their employment counted there.  But all the other parts of the metro area were below average as well. There were 225 Heavy Construction employees per 100,000 people in the Downstate Suburbs, 224 in New Jersey, and just 118 in Fairfield County.

In fact just about the whole Northeast was below average, with 145 Heavy Construction workers per 100,000 people on average in the Upstate Urban Counties, 217 in the Rest of New York State, 222 in the Rest of Connecticut, and 208 in Massachusetts.  Pennsylvania was about average at 308.  Most areas of California, and the state as a whole, were below average, as was most of the Midwest.

Florida (not included in the chart) was just average overall. Above average Heavy Construction employment per 100,000 residents can be found in booming Texas and North Carolina,


For the U.S. as a whole, private Heavy and Civil Engineering employment was about the same per 100,000 people in 2017 as it was in 1997.   Some places had increases, and some had decreases.   New York City was up 18.5%, the Downstate Suburbs were up 35.0%, and New Jersey was up 17.5%.  In Upstate NY, the Urban Counties were down 12.4% but the Rest of NY State was up 28.3%.

Surprisingly, there were increases of 42.4% in Pennsylvania and 52.6% in Illinois, two states with limited population growth and large pension debts.  One does wonder, given rising costs in other categories, if the U.S. as a whole will be able to keep its infrastructure expenditures even at the level of the recent past. As I noted here:

One of those rising costs has been private sector union construction benefits.   Pension benefits were increased during the bubble around the year 2000, on the assumption that a perpetual stock market boom would pay for it all, but despite two more bubbles since these “multi-employer” pension funds are in trouble.  In New York the construction and real estate industries have been allowed to shift a huge share of this cost to the public sector, in soaring bid prices for infrastructure projects.  Perhaps that’s the reason that the budget per square foot of Mayor DeBlasio’s replacement jails is, by my estimate, ten times the cost of building luxury condominiums in New York City.  Even though the cost of residential and office construction is already higher here than everywhere else.  The only other excuse I can think of is if the jails will be built atop massive parking garages so NYC corrections officers will not have to take mass transit to work.

In other words, NYC may only have one-third the U.S. average number of private Heavy and Civil Construction workers per 100,000 residents, but I’ll bet those workers cost three times the average.  And that’s with, as always seems to be the case, much lower wages and pension benefits for new hires.

As for cash pay, for the New York Metropolitan Area as a whole, the average annual payroll per wage and salary worker (not self-employed) in the Construction sector was $76,306 in 2018, up 4.7% from 2007 after adjustment for inflation.  For the Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction industry alone sector average annual pay was $107,769 in 2017, up 6.8% from 2009 relative to inflation.

This discussion of state and local government infrastructure employment and payroll will conclude with the Solid Waste Management function. Garbage pick-up and disposal, like the underground utilities, is handled different ways in different places.

Some places have municipal trash collection, but like public sector water and sewer service, this is generally funded by charges for service, not taxes. When I compiled local government finances data from the previous Census of Governments in 2012, I found that charges for services equaled 74.2% of total local government Solid Waste Management expenditures nationwide.  Charges equaled just 0.9% of Solid Waste Management expenditures in New York City, 35.7% for the Downstate Suburbs, 48.0% in New Jersey, and 19.3% for Fairfield County.  Metro New York is a place where people don’t see how much they are paying for trash pickup, because most or all of it is lumped in with everything else in the property tax bill.

In some places, the local government provides trash collection, but it hires private companies rather than public workers to do the work. In still other places people are required to either hire their own trash collectors, or bring their trash to the dump themselves.  New York City businesses are required to hire private companies to collect and dispose of solid waste.  The New York City Department of Sanitation serves residences only.

Nationwide, there were 32 full time equivalent local government employees in the Solid Waste Management function per 100,000 people in March 2017, according to the Census of Governments.   And in 2017 there were 47 private Solid Waste Collection jobs per 100,000 people, according to Employment and Wages data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


New York City, however, had 120 FTE local government Solid Waste Management employees per 100,000 city residents, nearly four times the U.S. average.  This finding is consistent with what I have observed over three decades of compiling Census Bureau data.  The Downstate Suburbs, at 52, and New Jersey, at 48, were also above average, but to a smaller degree.  The Upstate Urban Counties and Rest of New York State were about average.

Because of NYC’s population density, its sanitation workers travel a much smaller distance to collect the trash of every 100, or 1,000, or 100,000 households.  The density that allows the city’s roads, water and sewer pipes to be maintained with fewer workers, however, doesn’t seem to reduce the number required for solid waste collection.


New York City’s private Solid Waste Collection industry employment is below the U.S. average, but not by nearly enough to explain how high its local government Solid Waste Management employment is.  Compared with the 47 private sector Solid Waste Collection workers per 100,000 people in the U.S., New York City had 32.   A political consensus has emerged that the New York City’s private garbage collectors are seriously over-worked.  Perhaps if they were not, NYC private sector employment in the category would be even closer to the U.S. average.

Private sector Solid Waste Collection employment was above the U.S. average, per 100,000 residents, in the Downstate Suburbs (64), Upstate Urban Counties (60), New Jersey (61), and Fairfield County (82).  In the Rest of New York State, it was 43, or below average.

For three decades, I have tried to come up with an explanation of why New York City’s Solid Waste Management employment is so high.

Was it because of street sweeping?  For the prior Census of Governments I contacted the NYC Department of Sanitation to find out how many people were operating the sweepers, and it wasn’t enough to really make a difference.

Would NYC see less out of line if it were only compared with other central cities?


The answer is no, based on a tabulation of the 18 local governments with the most Solid Waste Management employment in the country.   Almost all of the other have fewer FTEs per 100,000 people, with most of them much, much lower.

There are two exceptions.  Although the responsibilities of the District of Columbia’s Solid Waste Management agency are similar to the NYC Sanitation Department, best as I can determine, and its FTE employment per 100,000 residents is even higher.  As is the Solid Waste Management employment of City of Birmingham, Alabama.

I have just two explanations left.  Either NYC Sanitation workers do a whole lot less work on average than sanitation workers just about anywhere else in the U.S.  Or, it takes NYC sanitation workers more time and effort due to collect the same amount of trash, due to the need to get that trash past all the vehicles parked at the curb.  In the latter case, the added cost of the NYC Department of Sanitation is really the cost of curbside parking.  Or at least the cost of not coordinating garbage collection days and routes with alternate side of the street and street sweeping.


Based on local reporting over the years, I believe that NYC sanitation collection routes are fixed by union contract.  So when the city’s population declined, and areas of the city were abandoned, it ended up with a bunch of empty seniority routes.  But since the city’s population has since boomed, I assumed that NYC FTE Solid Waste Management employment would be falling per 100,000 residents.  It is, but not by much.

It was 118 per 100,000 residents in March 1997, but increased to 127 per 100,000 residents in March 2007 – even though the Fresh Kills Landfill, which the Department of Sanitation operated, was closed, and that work turned over to private companies.  It then fell to 120 FTEs per 100,000 in March 2017, 0.9% higher than in March 1997.

Some of this is perhaps explained by the growth of recycling, but recycling is growing elsewhere as well, and in March 2017 U.S. local government Solid Waste Management FTEs per 100,000 people was 18.9% lower than it had been in March 1997.   It was 11.2% lower in the Downstate Suburbs, 37.9% lower in the Upstate Urban Counties, 48.6% lower in Illinois, 28.5% lower in Massachusetts, etc.

Some of these local government employment declines are due to increased contracting out to private carters.   Private Solid Waste Collection industry employment totaled 26 per 100,000 population nationwide in 1997, and 38 in 2007, compared with 47 in 2017.

New York City’s local government Solid Waste Management workers are not only extremely numerous, their mean March payroll per worker is also extremely high.   This is also consistent with what I have found over the decades.

As noted, the mean earnings (including benefits) of metro New York private sector workers (including the self-employed, excluding Wall Street) was 21.4% above the U.S. average in 2017.  As of March 2017, however, the mean payroll per NYC FTE local government Solid Waste Management worker was 73.0% above the U.S. average.   Multiplied by 12 it equaled $92,912 per FTE, well above (for example) the mean payroll per private sector worker in the NY metro area Construction sector.

For the Downstate Suburbs, the mean payroll per Solid Waste Management FTE was 38.7% above average.  It was 3.8% below average in the Upstate Urban Counties, and 7.2% below average in the Rest of NYC state, matching up with the fact that the mean earnings per private sector worker is below average there.

Looking at the local governments with the top 18 Solid Waste Management employment totals, there are two others that also have a very high mean march payroll per FTE – Los Angeles, at $95,761 and Chicago, at $90,889, when multiplied by 12.   Those cities’ high sanitation worker pay levels, however, are far more affordable, given that they only have 68 and 65 FTEs per 100,000 people, compared with 117 for NYC.

In fact, looking at what local government Solid Waste Management workers get paid relative to those elsewhere, and relative to the private sector, it is all over the map.  It is a tough job, but one many people are capable of doing, which perhaps allows the pay level to be bid down in some places.  NYC’s high sanitation worker pay dates to the time when most trades were associated with certain ethnic groups, and is based on the idea that an Italian (sanitation worker) is worth 90 percent of an Irishman (cop or firefighter).

Even though it was high to start with, NYC’s Solid Waste Management payroll per employee has soared in recent years, after adjustment for inflation. By a whopping 28.3% from 2007 to 2017.  As in the case of the commuter railroads, there was no public discussion of pay increases of that magnitude at the time when NYC contracts with its sanitation workers were settled.

The proposed contract provides for 11 percent in raises over seven years, three months, and 30 days. It would begin, retroactively, on September 21, 2011 and expire on January 19, 2019.

Inflation has been low, but that doesn’t sound like the kind of pay increase that would lead to a 28.3% increase in payroll per employee in excess of inflation.  In fact the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator says $100 in September 2011 has the same buying power as $110.94 in January 2019, which means the contract was in excess of inflation by only a tiny amount.

As I always seem to end up doing, I checked the records of the National Weather Services.  Did massive Snowertime drive up payroll, temporarily, in March 2017? Nope.  There was just 1.7 inches of snow that month.

Once again I fear pension spiking via late career unnecessary overtime, and promotions to newly-created unnecessary positions.  With the vast majority of the cost shifted to a time when “President DeBlasio” is out of office.

Even without even more secret deals to push up what public employees take with them to Florida, the local government fiscal situation doesn’t look good.  At all.  And infrastructure spending has been low for 35 years, as I showed as part of my “Sold Out Futures” analysis of 1972 to 2016 Census Bureau government finances data year.

Infrastructure, moreover, benefits everyone.  Which it means it benefits no one in particular, and has no special interest concerned with it, other than producer interests lobbying to be paid more to do less.  Perhaps it’s time to link that video from Monty Python’s Life of Bryan again.

Granola Shotgun is not optimistic.

The overwhelming perception is that local taxes are already way too high. If anyone suggests that there isn’t enough money in the budget to meet expectations the obvious culprits are always identified as, “waste, fraud, inefficiency, corruption, labor unions” and so on. These are the voters who drive the political process.

People tend not to know that most new government hires don’t receive the same salaries and benefits packages as previous generations. And very few of the people about to retire fully grasp that they won’t be receiving the full package they were promised thirty years ago.

Thanks to retroactive pension increases, just about every public employee about to retire in New York City will retire with a richer pension benefit than they were promised.  But while workers in the infrastructure categories benefitted from the big retroactive pension increase in 2000, which added an inflation increase, most of them had a 25/55 pension all along, unlike NYC teachers.  And the share of them getting higher-paid disability retirement benefits is not as sky high as in the NYPD, the NYFD, and the LIRR.  The TWU went on strike to force a retroactive change to retirement at age 50 after 20 years of work, but unlike virtually other NYC union over the past 20 years they didn’t get it.  If things were “fair,” in their view, the transit system would be even worse off than it is.

But the big picture is…

The numbers are very clear. The money just isn’t there. There will be more cuts, more downward negotiations, and fewer municipal workers of all kinds. And still there won’t be enough money to do all the things that the public currently expects. What we all need to prepare for is… less.

Less of what?  The next post will be on a couple of the usual victims, along with the Administration for Children’s Services and infrastructure maintenance, when money gets tight in NYC.  Parks and libraries.