About a month ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released 2016 annual average employment data from the monthly Current Employment Survey. It isn’t the most detailed information with regard to local government, but it is the most timely, so I once again put together a series of charts showing the trends.
The data shows that after a period of austerity, local government employment is rising again in New York State. The increases are not large, and in New York City local government employment is still rising more slowly than private sector employment. But in the Rest of New York State the increase in the ratio of private employment to local government has halted. Moreover, elementary and secondary school employment, which soared in the Rest of New York State under former Governor George Pataki’s “everybody onto the payroll to get a pension” policies, is rising again despite (at least according to the latest data I’ve seen) falling school enrollment. And in New York City, private sector (but presumably mostly Medicaid-funded) home health care employment has soared at a pace and to a level that raises questions about what the heck is going on.
I will once again end a tabulation of state and local government data from the U.S. Census Bureau with a brief discussion of the Financial Administration, Other Government Administration, Judicial and Legal, and Public Health functions. This will be a limited review, because there isn’t much to add to the more detailed employment and payroll data from the 2012, 2002, and 1992 Census of Governments, which I analyzed here.
And the data from the government finances phase of the Census of Governments that I wrote about here.
Because the level of employment and pay in New York’s courts has been an issue, however, I’m going to examine that more closely for March 2002 and March 2014.
There are places in this country, generally rural areas, where people don’t get very much from state and local government other than schools, state police, and a road. Instead of public water and sewer, they have private wells and cesspools. Instead of municipal garbage pickup and disposal, they have to take their trash to the dump or pay someone else to do it. Instead of public libraries and parks, they have their own books and backyards. And, as in most of the country, there is no mass transit, no roads that are safe to bicycle or walk, not even many shared rides. Drive your own vehicle or be stranded.
New York City is, at least or based on its state and local tax burden and charges for services ought to be, the complete opposite of this. It has municipal water, sewer, solid waste pick-up, and mass transit. Highly developed at a high density, with most people having small or no private yards, city residents rely on public parks and related facilities for exercise and recreation. And the city has a network of public libraries, most within walking distance, even as most information shifts to the internet. One would, therefore, expect New York City’s public employment in these categories to be higher than the U.S. average. But how much higher? And is this fair value compared with what people could purchase themselves?
Health care and social assistance, along with payments to individuals, account for the largest share of government spending for the federal, state and local governments combined. They are distinguished from other government functions in two important ways. First, most of the funding comes from the federal government, even for programs that are administered by states, cities and counties. And second, most of the work is done by private, often non-profit organizations under contract or voucher systems, rather than by public employees.
This is the fifth post in a series on state and local government employment for FY 2002 to FY 2014, based on data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau. Data on private employment in sectors substantially funded by government programs was also included in the analysis, and will be particularly important for this post. New York State in general, and New York City in particular, have had far more spending in these categories than most other places. This is explained in part by the state’s Medicaid program, the most extensive and expensive in the country, and in part by New York City’s relatively high poverty rate, although that gap is closing. And in part by New York’s virtually unique commitment to public intervention in the multifamily housing market, rather than just in subsidies for suburban expansion. The high level of spending on NYC health care, social services and housing, combined with continued high poverty and high housing costs in the city, has, over the years, raised questions about how much value has been received for the tax dollar. While employment data cannot answer those questions, it can provide some insights.
One of the big issues in last year’s New York City budget negotiations was the level of police staffing. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the politicians it helps keep in office asserted that without thousands of additional dues-paying members, New Yorkers would no be longer kept safe. The debate went on and on for months, with many articles and reports from many news sources based on many press releases and statements from many interested parties. Through it all, however, I cannot recall a single report providing objective information on how many police officers New York City already has, relative to its population, compared with other places. In the end the number of officers was increased by 1,000, although I don’t recall any PBA statements conceding that its members were willing to keep us safe in exchange.
This is the fourth post in a series on state and local government employment for FY 2002 to FY 2014, based on data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau. The data shows that while police officer employment is down per 100,000 residents in New York City compared with 12 years earlier, mostly due to falling behind the city’s population growth (though the number of officers also decreased), it remains at the same ratio it has been relative to the U.S. average. New York City had 2.8 times as many police officers per 100,000 residents as the U.S. average at a time that New Yorkers were being threatened if they didn’t’ pay up for thousands more, and nobody deigned to even talk about this.
In the United States, more government workers are employed in elementary and secondary education than any in other local government function, and indeed any government function period. At the state level, however, more government workers are employed in colleges and universities than in any other function. In March 2014, according to data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, the states employed 547 full time equivalent workers in state colleges and universities per 100,000 people, up from 523 back in March 2002. This figure did not include most community colleges, which are generally assigned to local government, but did include the four year colleges of the City University of New York, now tabulated as state government despite its historic association with the City of New York.
The fact that state higher education employment actually increased relative to population over 12 years is surprising, given press coverage of reductions in services and courses available to students over those years. One reason may be that the large “Baby Boom Echo” generation was passing through the college years during this time, and may have been more likely to linger in graduate school given the job market in the aftermath of the great recession. The college age population has started to fall more recently and with it, college enrollment, according to press reports. This data, however, still raises a fundamental question. Given that the purpose of higher education purportedly is education, why were there more than twice as many full time equivalent state government higher education non-instructional workers in March 2014 than there were instructional workers?
Relative to population and even, in some places, in absolute numbers, state and local government employment has fallen in recent years as the cost of retired public employees has soared and tax bases have stagnated. Although many states and localities tried to shield elementary and secondary schools from the fiscal impact of past decisions as long as possible, in the wake of the Great Recession the schools have not been immune.
There are other factors, however, that have offset falling employment. First with the large “Baby Boom echo” generation exiting school age, school age children are a shrinking share of the population. In fact the number of children age 3 to 17 enrolled in school has fallen in the U.S. in absolute numbers from 2002 to 2014. And second, private school employment is rising in many places including New York City, where it was relatively high to begin with.