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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 2, 2011 10:53 AM. The previous post in this blog was April madness. The next post in this blog is Phone book trash -- time to speak up. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.



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Saturday, April 2, 2011

What ails us

Sure, coming from the Wall Street Journal, the surrounding rhetoric is to be taken with a grain of salt, but this article presents some sobering facts:

Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.... More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined.... Every state in America today except for two—Indiana and Wisconsin—has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods. Consider California, which has the highest budget deficit in the history of the states. [It] now has an incredible 2.4 million government employees—twice as many as people at work in manufacturing. New Jersey has just under two-and-a-half as many government employees as manufacturers. Florida's ratio is more than 3 to 1. So is New York's. Even Michigan, at one time the auto capital of the world, and Pennsylvania, once the steel capital, have more government bureaucrats than people making things.
Sad, really. "World trade" sure didn't help.

Comments (24)

...which of course ignores the fact that for nearly the past 35 years, the number of government employees as a percentage of the US population has remained about the same.

Also, the absolute number of government employees has FALLEN in the past few years, to a what's nearly the lowest percentage of the overall population in 25 years.

What a scandal! As the US population has grown, so has the government--at about the same rate.

And of course, the WSJ and others will gingerly sidestep the fact that that number includes a continually growing military infrastructure, which includes a significant number of civilian employees.

Another soft-core attempt at "journalism" by the WSJ. The op-ed piece is so lacking in critical thought--and facts--that I wonder how it expects to be taken seriously.

Spoken like a true PERS recipient.

The comparison being made is to manufacturing -- you know, a real job -- which government policy has wrecked in this country.

Since the wsj cheerleads for offshoring manufacturing jobs above all, seems a little odd for them to complain, since a bunch of govt jobs are to deal with the aftermath of our deindustrialization, which wsj loves loves loves.

While the article emphasizes the one trillion pay annual pay for 22.5 million fed, state and local government workers, USA Today in 2009 pointed out that the avg pay for a fed worker was $71K, but $41K for the private sector.

But as retired workers become more numerous than the present workforce, unfunded liabilities are staggering. Federal pensions: one trillion.
But state and local:
* Unfunded pension liabilities are approximately $2.5 trillion, compared to the reported amount of $493 billion.
* Unfunded liabilities for health and other benefits are $558 billion, compared to the reported $537 billion.
* Thus, total unfunded liabilities for all benefit plans are an estimated $3.1 trillion — nearly three times higher than the plans report.
(Source: National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report No. 329
July 2010)
And Jack thinks the Portland Police and Fire bill is big!

Government payrolls have ballooned at the state and local levels, not at the federal level. The federal government employed fewer people (not counting military in uniform)in 2006 than it did in 1966, during which time the country's population grew by more than 50% - from 196 million to 299 million. State and local government employment, however, mushroomed from 8.2 million to 19.2 million over the same period.
Source: GPO table, available here:

White meat, please cite the source(s) of your claim that gov. employees match the population gain. I've read otherwise. Maybe its due to all the other ways you can count "government employees".

State and local government employment, however, mushroomed from 8.2 million to 19.2 million over the same period.

That figure, combined with the Federal figure, would mean that almost 50 million people work in government, or 1 out of every 6 people. Given that the US has about 140 million *adults*, that would mean that just under one out of every three adults works for the government. Huh?

State and local government employment, however, mushroomed from 8.2 million to 19.2 million over the same period.

The total state FTE employees in 2009 was about 4.3 million (and that includes every part-timer, like student summer workers). The total FTE employees at the local level for 2009 was about 12.4 million. Total: about 16.7 million, or roughly three million less than you described.

Also, urbanization increased about 11-fold between those years--requiring billions of dollars (and, I'd guess, people) to build and maintain infrastructure.

What's disturbing is the where the actual *increases* are, which is the elephant in the room. In 2006, the largest category (by far) of state employees? Higher education.

The bulk of the rest? Corrections, then hospitals. In fact, Higher education and corrections account for over 50% of the total budgets of all 50 states.

K-12 education? A very small fraction of that number, both in number of employees and in cost. Isn't it weird how K-12 teachers get targeted so often?

Wouldn't it be nice to see a genuinely thoughtful, non-whiny analysis of the changes that have occurred?

White meat, please cite the source(s) of your claim that gov. employees match the population gain.

Here's one example. A quick search will verify the graph shown.

I don't think I said anything to suggest that total government employment is now 50 million. Federal non-military executive branch (administration)employment was about 2.7 million in 1966, and still at that level in 2006. (Legislative and judicial branch employment was only 63,000 in 2006.) The Government Printing Office document I found says that state and local government employment was 19,284,000 in 2006. Total government employment, including all three federal branches, the military, state, and local, was 23,417,000 in 2006, according to the GPO.

I found another breakdown of state and local employment trends over the period, which indicated that state growth and local growth were about the same. In 1966 local employment was 296% of state employment, and in 2006 it was 279% of state employment. But in 1966 state employment was 64% of federal employment and local employment was 191% of federal employment; by 2006 those ratios had increased to 188% and 526% -- about triple for state and 2.5x for local. If most of the growth had been in K-12 education then the local government employment would have risen much faster, proportionally, than the state employment.

Federal non-military executive branch (administration)employment was about 2.7 million in 1966, and still at that level in 2006

No, and the spreadsheet you linked to shows that it's wrong.

Legislative and judicial branch employment was only 63,000 in 2006.
Which is the tiniest part of government.

Total government employment, including all three federal branches, the military, state, and local, was 23,417,000 in 2006, according to the GPO.

The Census provides the GPO with it's data, and has more current information.

If most of the growth had been in K-12 education then the local government employment would have risen much faster, proportionally, than the state employment.

All K-12 employees are de facto state employees, because that's where the funds come from. They're also counted as such in most calculations (and cost data counts it that way, too).

Actually, most K-12 employees are classified as local amployees. The link you provided connects to spreadsheets that break down, by function, the state and local employees. They show about 46,000 state employees engaged in K-12 direct instruction, and about 4.4 million local employees engaged in K-12 direct instruction.

The big miss in all of this is private sector workers should be fighting for the benefits that government sector workers have, not trying to tear them down. But hey, let's vote for people like the governor of Wisconsin to teach those public sector workers a lesson and lay off thousands of those workers as well. Eventually, we'll get to where one guy has the only job in the country - and that job will be to use a handcart to haul bags of money out to banking executives' waiting limos. A class war is being waged on private sector and government workers alike by the super rich, and we are all dutifully playing the cards handed to us by infighting with each other while they continue to rob us all blind. Try to act surprised within the next couple of years when the DJIA is at 3,000 and our 401ks and pensions alike are gone. Michelle Bachmann will be sitting in the White House presiding over all of it. We are getting the government we deserve by being such an easily distracted nation more concerned with who the next American Idol is than what the President and Congress are doing once the election cycle is over and either the black hats or white hats, depending on your POV, won. They are all on the same team, and none of us are on it no matter which sides bumper sticker we buy.

Why do some of you think that the number of government workers should match the population over time? With computer systems, advances in machinery, and other innovations the number of government workers per capita should have fallen! It is not supposed to stay the same. By saying it has, you are effectively telling us there has been no productivity gains in the provision of government services. That is a bad thing.

Quick correction on my Michelle Bachmann comment. The same thing will happen if you substitute "Barack Obama" Didn't mean to take a partisan position there... She just creeps me out personally.

The big miss in all of this is private sector workers should be fighting for the benefits that government sector workers have, not trying to tear them down.

So we'll goose the economy by forcing price increases for everyone? I'm not an economist, but I'm pretty sure that will lead to greater unemployment.

"The big miss in all of this is private sector workers should be fighting for the benefits that government sector workers have, not trying to tear them down."

You're acting as if the private sector hasn't already tried and succeeded in matching those benefits or surpassing them in some sectors. The difference is, when the market tanks, those benefits go with it in the private sector but the public sector thinks they're eternally entitled to them.

Try not to forget all the things govt thinks they should be doing and all the new rules they love to make.

Then the hangers-on like developers, "consultants", inspectors to make sure people follow all the new government regulations, all the extra work to be in line with all the new gov regs, all of the SDCs (like $20K per building) and the OR state budget that just keeps getting bigger - good or bad economy.

The difference is, when the market tanks, those benefits go with it in the private sector but the public sector thinks they're eternally entitled to them.

Isn't it odd how that doesn't happen to CEO pay and benefits?

Actually, most K-12 employees are classified as local amployees.

"Actually", you're wrong, and I'll keep repeating it. You want to argue the semantics (what does it say on the monthly check), while any K-12 teacher or administrator will tell you exactly what I said--the funds are state funds, the aggregate data describes state funds expended on K-12, and the data you yourself linked to includes that very thing. The data isn't gathered by contact every school district in the country and asking for its budget and employee count. Yes, you can verify everything I just said.

But something tells me you're more interested here in being right than acknowledgint the budget picture that's being discussed.

Kremer and Abrams is taking on PERS retirees over on BlueOregon.

Kremer points out that many PERS retirees have been made millionaires by the so called good faith negotiations over the years.

Abrams, of course, diverts with an argument against the "average" PERS retiree as if that was what Kremer had commented on.

But in total consideration of all post employment benefits many PERS and other public employee retirees are in fact millionaires at much lower levels than Kremer's 75K figure.
Pension alone need only be around $5500 per month to equate to a million dollar annuity. But with the value of other retiree benefits added on, (like TriMet's health care for life) a pensioner could be getting as little as 4000 a month in pension with other retiree benefits and be effectively be a millionaire.

Making matters much worse is that many of the retiree packages are not funded with adequate or even any trust fund set aside as it the case with TriMet's OPEB.

TriMet's "Other Post Employment Benefits" has a growing $900 million unfunded liability and with trust fund set aside at all.

I read that New York has a total state and local unfunded liability of 300 Billion.
Now did that result from the good faith negotiations that collective bargaining provides?

Or did it come from a horribly corrupted nightmare?

...manufacturing -- you know, a real job...

Speaking as the son of a man who spent over thirty years working for our Federal government, may I request a moratorium on taking cheap shots at government workers?

The last time I checked, a job is a job. You may not like that there are millions of people who work for the government, but that doesn't change the fact that these people are working at a job. Without this job, my Father wouldn't have been able to send me and my Sister to college, or otherwise provide food or a roof over our heads.

My Father was a hard-working man. He wasn't a sponge. He wasn't a slacker. He wasn't a layabout. He wasn't any of the numerous insults I've heard about government workers. He may not have worn a hard hat or worked with his hands, but he cared about the work that he did. Isn't that enough?

"The last time I checked, a job is a job."

Last time I checked jobs are different. Ultimately jobs exist to produce goods or provide services.

I think my biggest issue is the need to unneccessary jobs that we are compelled to pay for. In the private sector, you can choose not to pay for a service or good if you don't want it.

If I take an extreme example, if Sam wants to raise SDCs or Randy wants to raise water rates to pay for another plicy coordinator to have countless meetings and generate more PowerPoints, what choice do I have besides leaving the town I was born in (don't worry that's about 5 years away) if I don't want to pay for it?

Manufacturing jobs, like my ancestors', were real. Paper-pushing jobs, not so much. That includes mine.

There was a time when the vast majority of government jobs had a purpose. Nowadays, no way. In our area, we spend more on government propaganda than we do on street maintenance.

"In our area, we spend more on government propaganda than we do on street maintenance."

By several magnitudes. The PDC, Metro. TriMet, cities and counties have a collective PR force that is enormous.

I'll bet there are in excess of 100 full time highly compensated communication staffers producing the propaganda.


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Lange, Pinot Gris 2015
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Edmunds St. John, Bone-Jolly Rosé 2016
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Chehalem, Inox Chardonnay 2015
The Four Graces, Pinot Gris 2015
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L'Ecole No. 41, Merlot 2013
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