When I first looked at the March 2016 employment and payroll data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau I thought I had two rare stories – New York City’s local government data moving closer to the U.S. average rather than further away. After a couple of decades of being much lower, the city’s full time equivalent local government Parks, Recreation and Culture employment per 100,000 city residents was approaching the U.S. average. And after decades of being 60 to 90 percent higher, New York City’s payroll per full time equivalent employment in the Solid Waste Management function was above the U.S. average by a percentage closer to what the average private sector payroll per worker in Downstate New York is above the U.S. average. Upon further consideration, and pending anything I hear back from the Bureau, however, it appears only one of those things is true.
This post is about employment and payroll in the Public Health, Financial Administration, Other Government Administration, Judicial and Legal, and Other and Unallocable functions, as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau. I group these categories because they overlap. While the Health function, according to the Census Bureau, includes “provision of services for the conservation and improvement of public health, other than hospital care” it also includes “health related inspections – inspection of restaurants, water supplies, food handlers, nursing homes, agricultural standards or protection of agricultural products from disease” along with animal control. In the “Other and Unallocable” category, similarly, one finds “protective inspection and regulation” and “code enforcement” among other things. The “Central Staff Services” included with “Other Government Administration” includes not only local politicians and their personal staffs but also clerks, recorders, and planning and zoning agencies. And while state courts and prosecutors in the “Judicial and Legal” category deal with criminal law and major civil lawsuits, local courts typically handle cases dealing with local ordinances. Parking and noise tickets for example.
All and all, these are the sort of public employees one would typically find at city halls, town halls, village halls, and county office buildings, rather than out providing public services. And in New York City, their number is on the rise.
One of the depressing aspects of reading the book Greater Gotham is seeing, summarized in one place, how a generation built much of the infrastructure and created most of the institutions that make New York City what it has been and is today. What a generation! Most of the firsts – the Brooklyn Bridge, Central and Prospect Parks, the first Croton Aqueduct and Reservoir, the first rapid transit lines, etc. had been built before the consolidation of the five boroughs into the City of New York in 1898. But after consolidation public investment went into a massive overdrive. One in stark contrast with the past 20 years, when despite addition of 600,000 jobs, 1 million people, and $billions in additional tax revenues, the city and state have failed expand the city’s infrastructure significantly and, in the case of the subway, failed to adequately maintain the infrastructure that already existed. That infrastructure and public amenities such as parks and libraries had been cash cowed and left to rot by the generations that departed to the suburbs, partially restored in a revival that few expected at the time (thanks to the best of another generation), but then left to rot once again by those same sorts of people who wrecked the city to start with, and who still control the state government, notably the state legislature.
But how many people are employed allowing New York City to fall apart, at the highest state and local government tax burden (excluding taxes on oil, gas and mineral extraction) in the country, while attempting to defer the consequences until another generation of insiders can retire to tax-free Florida? This post will use data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, and Employment and Wages data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to find out with regard to transportation.
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.
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,
“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.
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.
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.