New York City Local Government Employment and Payroll:  Could That Have Actually Happened?

Over the past few years, and especially during the pandemic, we have heard the same thing over and over again.  New York City public agencies and public contractors can’t possibly provide New Yorkers with decent public services because they are understaffed, underpaid, underappreciated.  And city residents are undertaxed.  You heard it from the cops as crime jumped during the pandemic, and from the teachers who needed more staff for hybrid learning – and now need even more without hybrid learning.  You hear it from the Department of Corrections, the judges, the public defenders and DAs.   You hear it over and over, and rarely does anyone threaten their own career by objecting.  Cheated out of $billions!

So I was shocked to learn that according to Employment and Wages data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2016 to 2020 New York City local government employment increased by 36,627 (8.1%) while local government employment in the rest of New York State decreased by 35,991 (6.2%).  That New York City local government payroll increased by fully 44.1% in four years!!!  Compared with an increase of 7.8% for the rest of the state.  I checked this against data reported to the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.  This source reports a mere 7.5% increase in “full time equivalent” employment (full time plus part timers converted to a smaller number of full timers based on hours worked), compared with a 1.1% increase for the U.S.  March local government payroll, according to this source, increased 22.0% for NYC, and 10.8% for the rest of the state.  Despite these differences NYC local government payroll, as measured by the two sources, ended up in about the same place — $40.4 billion for annual payroll based on employment and wages, and $38.8 billion for the monthly Census Bureau data multiplied by 12.  Which makes sense due to raises that might have occurred during the year, and seasonal employment in the summer.

All this makes me wonder – just what have two politicians seeking higher office with public employee union support:  Mayor Comptroller Scott Stringer, and President Governor Mayor Bill DeBlasio, been doing?


I didn’t set out to analyze New York City employment and payroll.  Instead, I have been working to update the spreadsheets I have on state and local government revenues, expenditures, debts and assets from 1972 on for all 50 states, and for New York City and therefore for the “rest of state” by subtraction.  The Census Bureau stopped updating these files for all 50 states after the FY 2008 data, during the Obama Administration.

My objective is to update the “sold out future” ranking through FY 2019, the most recent year of state and local government finances data.  This is the first of four posts for FY 1972 to FY 2016.

But I ran into a problem with NYC data for exhibit code Z00 in the state and local government finance data.  You can see the history of this data item below.

I contacted the Bureau, and found out their methodology changed in 2017.  Instead of having the finances division ask for the payroll total it its survey, they just took the March payroll number from the separate public employment and payroll survey, and multiplied it by 12.  It seemed to work – except for New York City.  NYC’s code Z00 apparently only ended up with the Department of Education payroll.

As a fix, I was told to get the NYC total local government employment and payroll data and multiply by 12, which I did.  That data is found here.

But I figured I should check it against something, so I downloaded the Employment and Wages data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website – all industries, local government.  That data is here.

It should be noted that unemployment insurance taxes are the basis of this dataset, but the City of New York is self-insured and doesn’t pay unemployment insurance taxes.  It just promises that if future city residents become much worse off, tax revenues drop, and public agencies have to lay off workers, those poorer future city residents end up paying that tab too.  So for local government in NYC, unlike private businesses, the submissions to the BLS are for information purposes only.

Here is what I found. 

Those QCEW codes are for individual New York City counties, which I added up.  You can reuse the codes and get new data whenever you want.

I am not sure what really happened, but there certainly doesn’t seem to have been much “shared sacrifice” going on.  Instead, NYC local government employment and payroll seemed to absolutely skyrocket.  The big jump was from 2017 annual to 2018 annual based on Employment and Wages data, and from March 2016 to March 2017 for employment based on Census Bureau data, and from March 2017 to March 2018 for payroll, also based on Census Bureau data.  With more increases after that, other than a tiny decline for employment in 2020 based on QCEW.

Cashing in on the pandemic, Mayor DeBlasio handed out yet another pension increase (incentive) to avoid layoffs, and then handed out a no layoff guarantee, last year.  Even as we have gotten even more demands, despite NYC being hit harder economically by the pandemic than any other metro area of significant size or state other than Hawaii.

Did I miss the news reports saying this had happened?  NYC local government payroll couldn’t have increased 44.1% in just four years during a period of low inflation, could it?

I plan on updating the Sold Out Futures By State spreadsheet after mid-November, when revised Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Personal data comes out.  Meanwhile, I’ll try to figure out which payroll figure to use.


Meanwhile down in Washington, during the Trump Administration, there was a promise to help ordinary people, but what the Republicans actually did is cut taxes for corporations and the rich while running up debts poorer later-born generations will have to pay back.

Now the Democrats are in, and are promising benefits for ordinary people that will be “paid for.”  So, no more increases in debt, and no increases in interest payments on the debts already accrued?  Or are they merely promising to screw poorer later-born generations only as much as Trump and the Republicans already have, but to benefit different already privileged interests?

News reports indicate they are having to cut back on their promises to those that are really essential.  That wouldn’t be more money for New York City’s state and local government workers, so there could be more even more dues paying members doing even less work, would it?  That might make sense in other states, where state and local government workers really are understaffed and underpaid, but not here – where their mean earnings (including pensions and other benefits) exceeded the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sector in 2019, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

More taxpayer money for Generation Greed, the tax cut, I’ve got mine jack generation when it comes to other people’s needs, to paid for by the poorer generations to follow?  In case you missed it, I wrote about that here.

It seems to keep happening as part of some kind of law of nature.

The only thing I’ve heard that would really benefit the less-well-off is the now temporary refundable child tax credit, proposed to be made permanent.  Some current help for those who will be forced to become even worse off in the future to pay for it.  It might even restore the federal tax break for parents of children, as a share of the economy, to the level it was back in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Baby Boomers were children.  They wouldn’t be thinking of dropping that and keeping other things, would they?  Add a work requirement if you want, because everyone should be expected to contribute and most people (almost all people) want to, feel a need to, are miserable if they can’t. But otherwise, if that disappears…well, things will have just kept going in the same direction.