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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

October 27, 2011 at 9:35 AM

More public jobs, more pain to come in the labor market

A reader writes: “It is my impression that the percentage of workers who work for some form of government entity is much higher than is typical. And, if one includes the portion of private employment that is dedicated to government contracts, the percentage is even higher. As a result it would seem that government cutbacks, especially at the federal level, would have an out-sized impact on Washington state’s employment counts. Is this correct?”

It’s a good question. The state lost a net 18,400 jobs last month. Of these, 10,800 represented government positions, especially among teachers. With deficits still in sight, the state will cut more positions, eliminate more private contracts and add to the unemployment problem.

I don’t have a complete answer. According to Governing magazine’s analysis of Census data, Washington in 2010 showed 17 percent of its workforce in public-sector jobs. That’s higher than the national average of 15.3 percent, as well as the 15.2 percent in Oregon and 15.5 percent in Idaho.

Overall, the United States has about 21 million pubic employees, and the percentage by state defies any ideological categories. For example, more than 27 percent of red-state Alaska’s workforce is in public-sector jobs and 20 percent in Mississippi; in purple state New Mexico, it’s 24 percent. Blue-state Massachusetts has just 12.2 percent of jobs in the public sector. It’s 14.9 percent in California.

Of Washington’s 522,711 public jobs, 28 percent are in education, legal, community service and arts, the largest slice. So it’s an incomplete answer; maybe readers have additional data. Of course the size and composition of the public sector is a result of many things beyond the critics’ answer of overspending. It might reflect a state’s values, such as trying to reduce class size, or history of public spending, or government facilities located there. The need for government spending and jobs also rises during recessions. And some spent too much during the good times and now face a reckoning.

And Don’t Miss: Government subsidies raked in by the 1 percent || Dirt Diggers Digest

Today’s Econ Haiku:

So is Europe fixed

As Zhou Enlai might put it:

It’s too soon to tell

Comments | More in Jobs/Unemployment

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The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


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