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Goodness Gracious, Government Grows

Thursday, September 19, 2019
Jeff Rosenthal

Recently, the publication Governing published an article titled “Where the Government Workforce Is (And Isn’t) Keeping Up With Growth.” The article points out that the prevalence of government jobs varies across the country, and they calculated numbers of full-time equivalent state and local government employees per capita to see how much they have shifted. North Carolina had the 5th highest growth among states (and DC) from 2013-2018 - going from 263.2 employees per 10,000 residents to 276.2. Across states, this growth is mostly due to growth in local government while state governments have remained flat or declined. I decided to dive into the North Carolina data points by going to the source - the US Census Bureau’s Local Government Employment and Payroll Data. What I learned may surprise you. It certainly made me think a little.  

Which is larger: State Government Employment or Local Government Employment?

Even though the state is a larger entity, local government has nearly three times more jobs than the state government. In 2018, for all government functions in North Carolina, state government had 168,570 jobs (part-time and full-time) while local government had 498,778 jobs.

So this ratio in the article says our government employment is growing faster than most states—what’s behind this?

It’s not the growth of state government. Our state government employment declined 2,795 jobs from 2013 to 2018 across the state (from 171,365 to 168,570).

Why is state government employment declining?

Government employment is not a monolith—some areas grow while others shrink.  The largest declines for NC state government can be seen in Education: Higher Education Instructional (-9,642), Corrections (-4,048), and Highways (-2,032) while the largest gains can be seen in: Education: Higher Education Other (+8,980), Hospitals (+4,624), and Police Protection Total (+2,065).

So that means that local governments are growing?

Yes - local government grew 22,857 jobs from 2013-2018 (from 475,921 to 498,778).

What’s driving this growth?

Largely Hospitals - which account for almost all of the growth in local government (93%) by gaining 21,363 jobs from 2013-2018 (from 56,038 to 77,401).  Other contributors include: Police Protection Total (+2,915), Public Welfare (+2,105), and Fire Protection Total (+1,226).

You may be doing the math here and wonder how this is possible- because all of these gains are larger than all the actual growth. This is because these gains are counter-acted by shrinking areas of local government.

Which areas are shrinking?

Almost all of the shrinking of local government can be seen in Education.  Education as a total (Elementary, Secondary, and Higher) declined by 7,404 jobs from 2013-2018. This is largely driven by declines in Instructional Education - at both the Elementary and Secondary level (-4,538), and Higher Education (-2,837). Other areas of local government that are shrinking include Corrections (-236), Parks and Recreation (-169), and Housing and Community Development (-147).

So all in all: what should we take from this?

All in all, state-wide, local government continues to grow largely in the form of Hospitals while state government is shrinking largely in Higher Education Instructional, Corrections, and Highways. Educational instruction continues to shrink at all levels.

This can be helpful in generally understanding about government jobs: what they’re really comprised of, and what’s been growing or shrinking over time. This could also help contribute to a better understanding of the labor market and future career options. If Hospitals continue to drive government growth, then there may be continued growth in health care occupations like Registered Nurses. The data trend seen in this particular data source also is reflected in our Industry (and Occupation) Projections. While Education is remaining pretty flat, the landscape of it is changing- with fewer instructional jobs at all education levels (Elementary & Secondary and Higher) and government levels (State and Local), and more ‘other’ jobs at the state level.