Category Archives: census of governments

Graphic Summary: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Over the past six weeks, I’ve posted a series of analyses of state and local government finances using data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, starting with the 2017 Census of Governments and including similar data for prior years.  The posts include well over 200 pages of text, 296-plus charts, 25 tables, 34 spreadsheets with that data, those tables and those charts, plus additional spreadsheets. It is the fifth time I have done this, based on the Census of Governments, which comes out every five years.

Did you read them all?

If not, I will now attempt to summarize what the data said about state and local government in New York City compared with the rest of the country, prior to the cornonavirus crisis, with a series of selected charts and a sentence or two each.  Most of the data is for all the governments in a state or county added together, with revenues and expenditures divided by the personal income of everyone in that state or county, to adjust for the relative cost of living and ability to pay. The first post in the series, which includes spreadsheets with revenue and expenditure data on the full scope of state and local government activities, and explains where the data comes from and how it is tabulated, is here.

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Bureaucracy: 2017 Census of Governments Data

This, the final analytical post based on a tabulation of state and local finances data from the 2017 Census of Governments, is about the most governmental of activities. The kind of activities one might expect to find taking place in city and town halls, county seats, county courthouses, and state capitals.  Reviewing applications, keeping records, adjudicating cases and doing inspections, rather than providing services.  The functions included are, as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau, Judicial and Legal; Financial Administration; Central Staff, General Public Buildings and Other Administration; Protective Inspection & Regulation; and, at the state level, Social Insurance Administration (state Departments of Labor) and “Other Education,” which includes state public school oversight agencies.  I have grouped them under the title “Bureaucracy.”

The budgets of these functions are small individually, but they add up. In FY 2017, also including public Health, state and local governments collectively spent $18.54 per $1,000 of U.S. residents’ personal income, or 1.85% of the income of everyone in the United States, on these functions.  And 1.6% of the personal income of residents of New York State, which ranked 38thin the country in Bureaucracy spending.

The relative level of spending on Bureaucracy in different states, when adjusted for the total personal income of residents of those states, doesn’t come close to matching what people might believe, based on what they read in the media.  Yes California is 11that $23.63 spent per $1,000 of personal income, and Texas is last at $13.31.  But Massachusetts, 45that $15.15, New Jersey 49that $14.00, and Illinois, 44that $15.41 ranked near the bottom.  Whereas Wyoming was first at $43.78 spent per $1,000 of personal income, albeit with a good chunk spent on Health.   And South Carolina made the top ten at $23.73.

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Public Amenities & Vices: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Over the years I’ve heard so-called conservatives try to make the case that the business sector is the foundation of the economy, while the public sector provides nice-to-have services that we may or may not be able to afford.  As if what the government does is the cherry on top of a sundae, perhaps desirable but not absolutely necessary.  There is a reasonable “conservative” case to be made about the relative value of services produced by the public and private sectors, but that isn’t it. The types of services that can’t fund themselves, and are in the public sector, include education, much of health care, most infrastructure and public safety.  And certainly aid to the needy.  The types of services that can fund themselves with sales in the private sector include alcohol, tobacco, other pleasurable but addictive substances, gambling, pornography, and prostitution.  Do we need less of the former, and more of the latter?

Perhaps the conservatives where thinking about the subject of most of this post:  Parks, Recreation, Culture, Natural Resources, and Libraries.  They have certainly been among the first services to be wiped out in NYC when money gets tight, along with services to keep poor children from being abused, neglected and killed.  But there was no fiscal crisis going on in FY 2017, the year of the latest Census of Governments, or in FY 2007 and FY 1997, prior Census of Governments years.  So how much was spent on these services then, in NYC and elsewhere?  This uses post Census of Governments data to find out.

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Infrastructure Other Than Transportation: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Generally when you hear about infrastructure in the media it is transportation infrastructure, the subject of the previous post, that is being referred to.  That, however, is not the only type of infrastructure there is, and that is not what New York City has invested the most in over the past 40 years.  Under the streets there are water, sewer and gas pipes. There are electric wires and telecommunication wires there, or on poles.  And the distribution infrastructure that brings new goods into an area is matched by a Solid Waste Management infrastructure that moves used up goods out.

As anyone who can’t get Verizon Fios and now has multiple people working at home knows, a substantial share of this infrastructure is privately owned and operated – especially in so-called Blue States and in cities.  Rural areas and so-called Red States have more publicly-owned utilities, just as they have more transportation expenditures, on roads.   In addition to public and private infrastructure, moreover, there are on-site services that people provide for themselves.

In 1990, the last Census that asked these questions, 24.1% of U.S. housing units had an on-site septic tank or cesspool to remove liquid waste, not a connection to a sewer in the street.  That included 20.2% of housing units in New York State, but just 11.6% in New Jersey.   And 14.8% of U.S. housing units got their water from individual wells, including 11.4% of those in New York and 10.2% of those in New Jersey.  The trend for water and sewer has been for more and more households to connect to the infrastructure, but with solar panels and 5G, the trend for wired services may shift in the other direction.

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Transportation Infrastructure: 2017 Census of Governments Data

For as long as I can remember, I have heard in the media that the United States doesn’t spend enough on infrastructure.  And for as long I as can remember, more and more money has been spent on other, more immediate priorities, even as federal, state and local government debts have risen.

On the other hand, I have come to see all such statements, by all interests, as essentially self-serving.  “Studies” are produced by interest groups seeking more for themselves, and pretending that they will be paid for by money dropping out of the sky, not by having other people left with less, now or later.  These are replicated by a media seeking an easy story.

So how much has the United States spent on infrastructure? How has this changed over time? And how does New York City, where the transportation infrastructure is smaller than it was 70 years ago as a result of the loss of the West Side Highway, and the 3rdAvenue and Myrtle elevated rapid transit lines, compare with the national average? Census of Governments data will be used to find out.

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Public Safety: 2017 Census of Governments Data

The need for different public services rises and falls over time, as demographic and social conditions change.  As this is being written, there is a great need for public Health and Hospital services.   When the Baby Boomers were school age, and when their children, the Millennials were at the same age, the demand was greatest for Elementary and Secondary Education.  The shift from rural America to the cities and then from the cities to the suburbs was associated with high spending on infrastructure.  The different lifestyle preferences and diminished income and wealth of Millennials, and global warming, ought to induce another infrastructure wave.  During World War II, military spending dominated government budgets.

The Baby Boomers drove another shift in public spending priorities, in addition to education.  As perhaps the most criminal generation in U.S. history their young adult years, from the 1960s to the early 1990s, saw a massive violent crime wave that led to a huge increase in spending on Police Protection and Corrections.  As they got older, a white collar crime wave followed.  Subsequent generations have been less likely to commit street crimes as young adults, less likely to be teenage or single parents, less likely to become divorced, less likely to drop out of school.  One might expect that spending on Police Protection and Corrections would have fallen sharply in the years since, per $1,000 of the personal income of those paying for it.

For many elected officials, public union leaders, and contractors, however, the purpose of government spending is to provide money for interest groups in exchange for political support, not to meet the needs of the people.  So spending on a particular function doesn’t always decline with need, let alone due to productivity gains. It fact it usually doesn’t.  That was the case for military spending after World War II, when President and former General Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex.   That was the case for public schools in New York City, where spending didn’t increase as the Millennials entered school age in the 1990s, and didn’t decrease as they exited in the 2010s.  How about spending on Police Protection and Correction?

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Aid to the Needy: 2017 Census of Governments Data

For the past 25 years, there has been a bi-partisan consensus in favor of unlimited spending of later-born generations’ future income to meet the ever-escalating perceived needs of those who perceive themselves to be needy.

Executive pay had soared during the late-1990s stock market bubble, as executives had claimed to have personally created “shareholder value.” Since then every time stock prices have gone down toward something like fair value, the federal government has intervened to keep them inflated, so huge bonuses based on “shareholder value” could continue, even as the overall economy rotted away.   Because that’s what rich and older asset holders needed and deserved.

Unionized public employees had already been promised retirement benefits far in excess of what other Americans were going to receive.  But in many locations, such as New York, these were repeatedly enriched, because such employees need to do less for other people and for a shorter period of time.  While retirement benefits for others were cut, because unionized public employees and retirees need lower prices for better goods and services, and that requires other workers to be lower paid.

The richest generations in U.S. history, those now over age 62, needed to be able to sell their houses to poorer later-born Americans for high prices in order to live in the style to which they had become accustomed. So every time the cost of housing threatened to fall to a level that reflected the lower incomes of later-born generations, the government intervened to keep prices high.

And since those over 62 and the rich expect to get benefits out of society but don’t want to pay for them, their taxes have been repeatedly cut, with lots of special deals for capital and retirement income and property taxes for seniors.  Even as spending on everything other than seniors, retired public employees, and bailouts for the rich and big businesses have gone down, both at the federal level and in states where seniors are a higher share of the voting population.

It has been an era of unlimited generosity for those who have enormous perceived needs, the cost to everyone else and the future and those who live in it be damned.   Massive income redistribution upward to the already better off that isn’t even allowed to be called what it is, so the entitled beneficiaries don’t have to feel bad about it.  But what about state and local government spending on people who are objectively worse off, those who were once thought of as the needy?  Well, that’s another thing entirely!

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Health Care: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Many New Yorkers were stunned when Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs public hospitals in the city, rather than the legendary New York City Health Department, would take the lead on testing and contact tracing as the city attempts to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It makes absolutely no sense to move a function that has been done well by a great health department for decades to an organization that does not have the legal, epidemiologic, administrative or technical experience to manage it,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, a former city health commissioner and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Perhaps Mayor DeBlasio knows something that the Times and Dr. Frieden do not.  That when measured per $1,000 of the personal income of all city residents, the Department of Health doesn’t have as much funding as it did back when former Mayor Bloomberg was nagging us about our health. That is one of the findings of an analysis of state and local government Health, Hospitals and Medicaid Vendor Payment expenditures, and the jointly funded federal and state (and in NY local) government Medicaid program that is used to pay for most of them.

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State Government Higher Education Expenditures: 2017 Census of Governments Data

In FY 1977, U.S. state and local government institutions of higher education covered just 20.8% of their expenditures on education with tuition and fees.  That figure peaked at 39.2% in FY 2011, and was 35.0% in FY 2017.   On the other hand, fees and charges at auxiliary enterprises at public colleges and universities, including dormitories, food services, book stores, stadiums, camps and conferences, covered more than 100.0% of their costs more often then not up until FY 2004, interest on debts aside. Such enterprises still covered 92.1% of their costs in FY 2011, but covered just 77.0% of their costs in FY 2017.   And that was before the coronavirus ended the presence of students in on-campus housing, and admission revenues at sporting events.

That is just one of the findings from a tabulation of state and local government finances from the 2017 Census of Governments, along with similar data for prior years.  As noted in the prior post on elementary and secondary schools, local governments also operate community colleges in some states, including New York.  For the most part, however, higher education is a state government function.  While Medicaid, mostly paid to private sector health care providers, and elementary and secondary education, consisting of aid to local government schools, are a larger part of state budgets, public colleges and universities employ more actual state workers than any other government function.  A table, charts and a further discussion about public higher education follow.

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Local Government Education Expenditures: 2017 Census of Governments Data

In FY 1972, when a large number of Baby Boomers were still in school, U.S. elementary and secondary school expenditures equaled 4.59% of U.S. residents’ personal income.  That fell to a low of 3.69% of income in FY 1984, after the Boomers exited and enrollment shrunk.  The figure increased to a non-recession (recessions depress income) high of 4.51% of income in FY 2004, when a large share of the Millennials were in school, before falling to around 3.9% of income each year from FY 2014 to FY 2017, after they exited.

New York State, however, has diverged from the pattern.  In New York City elementary and secondary school expenditures were around 5.0% of personal income each year from FY 2013 to FY 2017, actually higher than the 4.3% of personal income in 2004.  The rest of NY State averaged 6.4% of income in FY 2004, but was only modestly lower at just under 6.0% of personal income from FY 2015 to FY 2017.  New York’s elementary and secondary school expenditures were already high, compared with the rest of the country, in FY 2004, but the gap has increased since – despite an economy that has favored NY State in general, and New York City in particular, increasing the personal income that spending is being divided by.

New York’s public school expenditures are now at an extreme, even as the city and state face recession.  Rising pension and retiree health care expenditures, as a result of a long series of retroactive pension increases for teachers, are one key reason.  A high level of public school employment, despite falling enrollment, with the schools used as a job program and source of dues revenues, is another.

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