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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 31, 2011 7:45 AM. The previous post in this blog was A boring video -- and may it stay that way. The next post in this blog is Eastbank Esplanade fails for Rose Festival. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More than 18% of jobs in Oregon are government

We paid a little more attention than we usually do to the most recent employment figures. Oregon's unemployment rate is now officially pegged at a "mere" 9.5%, which is an improvement compared to the double-digit territory in which it has been living for a couple of years.

A couple of articles that accompanied this news got into the question of how government jobs are doing. The numbers of those have been declining recently, but not by a whole lot. Looking for a bigger picture, we wondered just how much of Oregon's employment is in government -- because it feels like a lot more than ever before.

According to this story, there were 303,500 government jobs in our fair state last month; this tally had it at 297,100. Given the many shadowy agencies in the state that are public sometimes but private when it's convenient for them, it's not surprising that there's a 6,400-job discrepancy.

Anyway, according to that second link, which comes straight from the state, overall nonfarm employment in Oregon was 1,624,500. Which as you math majors out there will immediately see, leads to the conclusion that of all the jobs in Oregon, somewhere between 18.29% and 18.68% are in government.

It's not much different elsewhere on West Coast. Based on data from here and here, we've got Washington State at 19.68% and California at 17.3%.

At the risk of sounding Reaganesque, that's a lot of government -- probably too much.

Comments (29)

Since only about 30% of registered voters actually vote, and govt. employees are probably VERY likely to vote since their paychecks are directly impacted, we who pay the bills are in trouble.

Let's not forget the hangers-on (patron saint Cylvia) like all the consultants, short list of developers, union officials, streetcar sales people, green energy consultants, ex-PDC officials who get make-work jobs at PSU, ex-reporters turned into Sam's PR hacks, etc.

I'm sure there is a word limit on your blog box, otherwise I'd get winded recounting the number of jobs political patronage has created.

The only thing scarier is trying to kill off any of this excess largesse and hwo many votes it buys.

What's the right percentage though? The numbers in isolation don't say much. Is there a metric for quality government that is objective and isn't either a Governing magazine snow job or a Cato Institute or Cascade Plutocrat Institute hack attack that we could agree on and then look at the percentages in the top performing places for comparison?

One thing to ponder ... Everyone calling for lower student teacher classroom ratios is calling for an increase in the percentage of government jobs as a share of the whole. Everyone calling for more police is too.

"One thing to ponder ... Everyone calling for lower student teacher classroom ratios is calling for an increase in the percentage of government jobs as a share of the whole."

Love to see a stat on percentage of teachers as part of the overall employees of the various metro districts.

I wonder what the percentage is for Nevada.

and from that link

SteveBuckstein April 23, 2011 at 7:59PM


This op-ed asks some truly provocative questions; questions well worth asking.

Unfortunately, some of them have already been answered, and the answers didn't bear out the supposition that fewer local governments would do much good.

One example: "Consolidation is nothing new in Oregon. From 1992 through 2001, legislation resulted in 277 school districts being consolidated down to 198. Rather than fewer districts resulting in less administrative overhead, at the end of the period there were actually more central office staff per pupil than at the beginning. Also, nonteaching staff grew faster than teachers and real per student spending rose more than 11 percent."*

Bottom line, consolidating monopolies often leads to dis-economies of scale.

* source: http://cascadepolicy.org/pdf/pub/2-8-11SchoolConsolidationlPDF.pdf

David G.: I'm not sure what the percentage of government employees is here in Nevada; but my general impression is it's pretty lean compared to Oregon.

"What's the right percentage though?"

Why not start with 0 jobs and then figuring out what we actually need? There are so many depts that just start growing (Office of EcoDev or Sammy's URA/SimCity projects) that just cannot be killed off.

Meanwhile, the stuff we really want (schools and Sellwood bridge) just can't seem to find enough money because they get starved out.

% of jobs is just symptomatic of a much larger problem. Finding money for stuff they want, but charging us for stuff we want.

Dumbing things down, if you consider a Portland residential 200 x 200 ft. block having the typical 8 homes, that means
1-1/2 of the homes are government employees.

Then if you add in Steve's point about all the "hangers-on" consultants, etc. I think we are approaching 3 out 8 homes being truly government dependents.

Then if you add in all those businesses and their employees that survive from government contracts, etc., then we are approaching 4 to 5 out 8 that are subservient to government. Folks, we're in trouble in many ways.

The national average for all levels of government (local/state/federal combined) is around 7%.

The military is the largest single U.S. employer. Over 40% of all military personnel are from the South. The U.S. military budget in 2012 will be the most expensive item in the entire nation's budget, and account for more than $1 of every $5 in the budget.

That military budget is more than the entire military budget of every other first world nation COMBINED. *Including* China.

Want to complain about government employment? Start there, but a focus on the dollars and not the headcount would be a much more useful number.

The worlds elite are not completely stupid!

They know that a certain % of the citizenry have to be on the payroll or else the whole house of cards will come tumbling down!

Of course if some of the economic forecasts come to fruition, nobody will be able to keep the house of cards from falling down.

The "right" percentage of employment that happens in government is an interesting question. The chief problem in figuring it out is agreeing on the shape and size of the playing field (note comments about the military above, as though they are the most undesirable type of government employee - more so then, say, a TSA Molestation Technician).

I would expect there are far fewer cops and teachers as a percentage of the total then most people would like. There are thousands more paper shufflers and paper clip counters then anyone would want, but people - including otherwise quite intelligent, well-informed people - defend our absolute need for them as though they were actually important.

Until a majority is willing to admit that there are some things government is doing that just aren't necessary, agree on what those things are, and then vote in and stick with politicians who will get rid of them, it's only going to get worse.

The double dip recession, 2nd housing bubble and signs of continued weak credit market may be upon us.
That could result in the need for a second wave of bank bailouts leading to econimic calamity few thought was possible.

Good thing our own legislature is busy taking care of Oregon. :)

What I find interesting is that government jobs are being pushed as an employment solution for older workers, particularly those laid off by private businesses and replaced by fresh college graduates. (Everyone who's worked in the tech arena, for instance, is familiar with the recruiter calls seeking an 18-year-old with 25 years' experience with technology that's been around for a whole six months. If you're older than 30, or if you have any family obligations, don't bother applying.) Having worked for the BLM, it's an interesting situation: in strange ways, the older employees save money because they're not wanting the latest tech toy experience to boost their resumes.

I don't think it's a conspiracy, but I agree with you, Jack, that it's getting to be a problem. The security of government positions is very enticing to older employees, most of whom are much more politically active than their younger cohorts. And realistically, who's going to support a local, state, or federal candidate who does more than talk about "cutting governmental waste" when their jobs would be on the line if the candidate followed through?

Don’t forget those education and health workers. OHSU is the #5 employer in Portland.

"And realistically, who's going to support a local, state, or federal candidate"

Actually, hwo about a candidate that somehow put something on the ballot less than favorable to PERS. Say what you want about the public employee unions, but they do get out the vote.

So in OR, about 4M pop, prob half are registered to vote = 2M. In most elections, 40% show up to vote = 800K.

There are something like 350K or so of active PERS accounts, plus don't forget friends/family.

You can draw your own conclusions. The numbers may not be dead on, but they are close enough.

People vote self interest, and why shouldn't they?
Self interest is what this country is all about.

YouTube - Keiser Report: Neo-Feudal Gulag Casino State (E151)

The total numbers/percentages are certainly meaningful, but it would be good to compare with each state - as well as compare what those jobs actually are.

Many of the "red states" actually have high levels of government workers - they are often home to large military operations. That is part of the reason why Oregon has fewer government workers than Washington as a percentage - Washington has an Army base, two Air Force installations and a number of Navy and Coast Guard facilities.

Likewise, it probably isn't questioned when those government workers actually provide services to the public. Few would argue we have too many firemen, or police officers, or librarians or teachers or even TriMet drivers - but certainly the numbers of "Consultants", "Managers", "Planners", "staff Attorneys" and so on - people that have little to no public interaction, don't actually provide a service, and often have high wages and benefits.

So having nearly 20% of our employment in government...is that the right amount? I don't know - but I know that when I go to the DMV I have a long wait, but there are a lot of wonks at Metro that don't seem to do much except drive their overpriced, German made Smart Car around downtown Portland to a PSU parking lot even though the #6 bus would have been much more sustainable - and cheaper.

I did some Googling and found out that in the two largest cities in Nevada - Reno and Las Vegas - the percentages of government employees are as follows:
Reno - 13.57%
Las Vegas - 10.00%

Must admit they are lots lower than in Oregon. Of course, we don't have planners for everything under the sun here either. Oh - and they actually build roads here in a few months - not years like the extra lane they put out to Hillsboro a few years ago..

Don't like government hiring? Too bad, because there's going to be a lot more of it in the coming years, since the private sector has basically learned how to function without employees (except in dollar-a-day third world sweatshops). No matter which party is in charge, that is never going to change -- in fact it will get worse as automation and outsourcing continue their relentless advance. Another half-decade or so of 20% or higher unemployment (I mean real unemployment, not the official rate that counts anyone who works an hour a week as employed), and the demand for some sort of public works program will be irresistible, just as it was in the 1930s.

However, the public works jobs of the future will tend to be very low-paid (think minimum wage or just slightly higher) with few, if any, benefits. These won't be career positions, but subsistence jobs aimed at preventing the total collapse of the social contract.

I'm curious about whether these figures include contractors, consultants, twitterers, artists-in-residence, significant others on retainer, etc. or only salaried and hourly regular government workers (drones who must qualify via tests, interview, etc.)

I have a 'mate' [Kiwi] who often asks me why we have 24 kinds of cop. He asks why not have one central Police Agency for all jurisdictions ?
Fire redundant Supervisor / Admin positions in every county/city , and you could put more Officers on the road all over the State.
There is one for you Gov. Kitz , easy money.

You like the lower unemployment numbers?? Well here is one way to get them. My wife exhausted her unemployment, okay, fine, she tried to register another week of unemployment (for which she knew she would get no benefits) - buzzzzz - no, since there are no more benefits for her, she is not allowed to register as an unemployed person; presto, she's no longer unemployed in the eyes of the state. Voila, the unemployment rate shrinks. You betcha, we're looking good in the neighborhood.

"I'm curious about whether these figures include contractors, consultants, twitterers, artists-in-residence, significant others on retainer, etc. or only salaried and hourly regular government workers (drones who must qualify via tests, interview, etc.)"

The answer is: it depends a lot on which data set you look at. If you want *just* the wage and salary employment numbers you can look here: http://www.qualityinfo.org/olmisj/CEP?action=industry&indtype=N&areacode=01000000&indcode=900000000000

I'll spare you the technical discussion about the different employment data sets, but if you're interested the State of Wisconsin has a good summary here: http://www.worknet.wisconsin.gov/WORKnet/worknetinfo.aspx?htm=progdesc_long&menuselection=

since there are no more benefits for her, she is not allowed to register as an unemployed person; presto, she's no longer unemployed in the eyes of the state

That's incorrect; the number of unemployed people isn't determined by how many people are receiving unemployment insurance benefits. That data is determined by a monthly sample survey called the Current Population Survey. You can read all about it here: http://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_htgm.htm#where

I did some Googling and found out that in the two largest cities in Nevada...
Las Vegas - 10.00%

Of course, many of the government workers in Las Vegas don't actually exist:

http://www.dreamlandresort.com/info/janet.html

Jack - You're a numbers guy, so what is the total percentage of payroll made up by government? Number of people is one thing, but I think the dollar amount of the payroll is going to exceed 20% of total compensation, and if you include retirees, who's retirement we are still funding, I'll bet it's bigger.

Please don't worry about sounding Reaganesque, that would be music to a lot of ears.

http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/ellis/110530


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