Author Archives: larrylittlefield

About larrylittlefield

A blogger on state and local government and related issues in Brooklyn NY.

Health Care and Social Services: Census Bureau Public Employment and Payroll Data for March 2016 and March 2006 (And Related Private Employment)

For more than a century, the City of New York and State of New York have provided more health care and social services for city and state residents than the U.S. average, and employed more state and local government workers and paid for more workers in the non-profit sector to do it.  I had always associated the shift from health and social service provision by slothful, wasteful public agencies to non-profit social service organizations with the failure of the public sector in the wake of the unionization and public pension increases of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when New York City social services became contracted out on a large scale.   But reading Greater Gotham, I find the same issues and institutional battles were repeated in the early 1990s.  In the (actual, original) Progressive era, the shift was from the slothful, wasteful, contracted out services provided by non-profits, religious and political organizations to “more efficient” public agencies.  Basically, it seems any publicly-funded organization, whether public or private, will, in a generation or two, descend into self-dealing.

In March 2016, the City of New York employed 877 full time equivalent local government workers per 100,000 city residents in the Census Bureau’s “Public Welfare,” “Hospitals,” and “Housing and Community Development” functions combined.   (I’ll take about the Public Health function in a later post, because it combines regulation and service provision). That was down from 1,023 FTEs per 100,000 in March 2006.  The U.S. average was 302 local government workers, down from 309, and the Rest of New York State averaged 309, up from 296 but similar to the U.S. as a whole.   New Jersey and Connecticut were lower than average at 148, down from 191, and 91, down from 103, but in these small states there is more employment in these categories at the state government level.  Despite extensive local government health and social services employment, New York City’s 2016 private health care employment, at 5,715 workers per 100,000 residents, exceeded the U.S. average, at 4,737 per 100,000 residents.  And NYC’s private social assistance employment, at 2,142 per 100,000 residents, nearly doubled the U.S. average of 1,108. Unlike local government employment, private, substantially government-funded employment in many industries in these sectors keeps going up.

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Public Safety: Census Bureau Public Employment and Payroll Data for March 2016 and March 2006

Back in the high crime era, apologists for law enforcement would often say that you can’t put a cop on every corner.  If there was ever a place that tried, however, it is the City of New York. Local government full time equivalent employment for the police, corrections and fire protection functions totaled 961 per 100,000 city residents in March 2016, up from 924 in March 2014 and more than double the U.S. average of 445 per 100,000 people. But this is an understatement, because the city is so densely populated.  Measured per 100 acres, New York City would be even more out of line with the U.S. average.   According to the New York City Department of Transportation,

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/infrastructure/signals.shtml

“As of June 30, 2011, there were 12,460 intersections with traffic signals citywide, including 2,820 in Manhattan, 1,605 in the Bronx, 4,371 in Brooklyn, 3,119 in Queens and 545 in Staten Island.”

Not every intersection has a traffic signal.  But with a total of 49,479 police officers in New York City, as reported by the Census Bureau, a cop for every one of them is a real possibility.

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Census Bureau Public Employment Data: Higher Education Employment and Payroll in March 2016 and March 2006

Public elementary and secondary schools were one of the last public services state and local governments started to slash, as the consequences of Generation Greed’s future selling policies hit home after the year 2000.   State colleges and universities, revenue-producing sports excluded, were one of the first.  So one does not find additional cutbacks in public higher education employment in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut or the U.S. as a whole from March 2006 to March 2016, particularly since enrollment – and student debt to pay for college — tended to be on the rise over the those years.

One does find a drop in community college employment, generally classified as local government employment, relative to population from March 2006 to March 2016.  More recently, politicians have noticed community colleges, and started to invest in them as an alternative to the four-year colleges increasingly impoverished Americans can no longer afford.  Perhaps in the near future community colleges and vocational training will also be seen as an alternative to the last two years of high school, which fiscally collapsing and indebted state and local governments can no longer afford.

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Census Bureau Public Employment Data: Public School Employment and Payroll in March 2016 and March 2006

In the wake of the Great Recession, the number of people working in public education fell relative to the overall population in much of the country, and inflation-adjusted teacher pay fell in many parts of it.  There was only a partial reversal from March 2014 to March 2016, and it was mostly in places where school staffing and pay were already relatively high.

Several factors contributed to the trend.   First, in some states were the tax burden was already low relative to the personal income of state residents, it was reduced further by anti-tax ideologues.  The result was reductions in public services for the non-elderly across the board, including, in the end, elementary and secondary education. Second, with the large Baby Boom Echo (aka millennial) generation exiting school, and smaller generations entering school, the actual need for school workers fell.   But in some places with high and rising taxes the demand for school jobs increased, as other high-compensation alternatives for politically influential college graduates diminished.   Third, the cost of retired public employees soared, as a result of past taxpayer underfunding in low-tax right-wing states.  And as a result of retroactive pension increases scored by powerful public employee unions in (if by “right-wing” people mean having public policy favor the otherwise advantaged at the expense of those with less power) the other type of right-wing, high-tax states, those generally self-described a “progressive.”  A review of the data follows.

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State and Local Government Employment and Pay Per Employee: Census Bureau Data for FY 2016 Compared With FY 2006

The U.S. Census Bureau released state and local government and payroll data for March 2016 last fall, and I compiled it over the past few weeks to see how things changed between March 2006 and that year.  It appears that in New York City some of the reduction in local government employment relative to population was reversed from March 2014 to March 2016.   And it appears than New York City’s local government workers became better off in cash pay relative to private sector workers from 2006 to 2016.  Benefit costs, particularly those for the retired, were soaring at the same time.  I didn’t find the reduction in NYC mass transit employment I expected, based on cuts in service and maintenance.  Meanwhile, the number of students per instructional employee fell to 8.4 in New York City and 7.4 in the rest of New York State.

Those are just some tidbits.   As is my custom, however, while the spreadsheet with the tables and charts may be downloaded from this post, my analysis and understanding of what it means will be presented in later posts. What I’d like is for people to read the background information presented below, download the spreadsheet, look at the tables, and make up their own minds before reading what I have to say about it.

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The Economist on the Death Care Industry

The most recent issue of The Economist has articles on a shake up in the “death care” industry, a $16 billion per year industry that it describes as “stodgy and exploitive.”

https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21740406-changing-social-norms-competition-and-technology-are-shaking-up-stodgy-and-exploitative

Undertakers have long been able to get away with poor service. Their customers are typically distressed, under time-pressure and completely inexperienced (people in rich countries buy more cars than they do funerals). As a result, few shop around, let alone haggle. With consumers docile, providers can keep quality low and prices high—much like tourist-trap restaurants, another one-off purchase made in haste with little information. Some sellers have made matters worse with techniques ranging from opaque pricing to emotional blackmail. The asymmetry in knowledge between undertaker and grief-stricken client allows ludicrous markups on things like coffins. It also makes it easier to sell services that people do not realize are mostly unnecessary.

Funny, but all the factors that The Economist believe are characteristic of the death care industry are also characteristic of another industry.   One with annual U.S. revenues not of $16 billion, but rather $3.5 trillion, or more than 2,000 times as much.  Want to guess which one?

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-healthcare-spending/u-s-healthcare-spending-to-climb-5-3-percent-in-2018-agency-idUSKCN1FY2ZD

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America’s Debts: Those Who “Came of Age in the 1960s and Early 1970s” are Still In Charge

Federal Reserve Z1 data on total U.S. debt for 2017 was released in March, and it appears that while it took eight years, the Obama Administration finally had an economic year it could be proud of.   A year when inflation-adjusted GDP increased moderately, in this case by 2.3%, but the increase was not driven primarily by rising debts, with Americans continuing to sell off its future to consume today. Total U.S. non-financial debt actually fell by 0.5% of GDP, from 253.5% of GDP in 2016 to 253.0% of GDP in 2017. Federal government debt fell from 86.0% of GDP to 84.9% of GDP, the first decrease of the Obama Administration. Household debt edged down from 78.8% of GDP to 78.7% of GDP. These improvements took place, aside from 20 days, after President Obama had left office, but while the policies he had hashed out with Congress mostly remained in effect.

By the end of 2017, however, the new President and “King of Debt” Donald Trump finally began to get some of his agenda through. His huge, deficit-increasing tax cut was signed on December 22, and will take effect in 2018.   A huge deficit increasing spending bill followed this March. And he has been moving to get rid of government restrictions intended to prevent the financial sector from lending people more money than they could pay back, and from speculating on derivative bets while having taxpayers bailout their losses. Last year I wrote that Generation Greed was planning one more economic and fiscal orgy at the expense of its children and grandchildren, and at the expense of the future of the United States. This year, in light of the Harvey Weinstein brouhaha, the term “orgy” seems too consensual.   The last economic and fiscal gang rape is probably more like it.

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