Fact Check: Are Numbers of Government Workers Shrinking?

September 10th, 2011
in Background, econ_news

Econintersect:  Charts of the Day at Business Insider produced a graphic today showing the shrinking Federal Employment and commenting:

Another myth debunked: Contrary to your belief that the Federal government is growing and growing in terms of its role in the government, it turns out that in one crucial respect, it's actually shrinking.

As a share of all workers, Federal workers have been declining pretty steadily over the last several decades. That number has risen a little bit under Obama -- due to some growth in the Federal workforce and the dramatic shrinking of the private workforce -- but the ratio is still near the all-time rock bottom.

Follow up:

Whilst true that Federal employment is falling as a percentage of all workers,  it is a misleading statistic.  The Congress has been shifting execution and administrative responsibilities of its laws from the Federal Government to the States / local governments.    The following chart shows the ratio of all government workers (USA Federal, State and local workers) to total U.S. population:

If the drop in total government employment continues, President Obama's administration will have the largest contraction since the Reagan administration.

Disclosure:  Global Economic Intersection is a contributor to Business Insider.

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  1. Dan Flemming Email says :

    In the Defense Department it seems we reduced government workers and even uniformed service members over the years...., However we increased contractors to make up for it after 911. And we have outsourced training as well as brought in new internet based training (web based training).

    Contractors could also have been hired by the DoD offices as analyst in some cases because they had existing relationships with others or were "on the spot at the moment".

    worth thinking about -

  2. Les says :

    The real size of the federal workforce should incorporate the government contractors, and even then, it may be undercounting because the contractors hire private subs. The numbers I've seen indicate the extended federal workforce is approximately 14 million workers.

    As the previous reply indicates, they're pervasive on government worksites and some agencies have policies requiring contractors to only present themselves as employees of the agency.

  3. Ivar M. Ivarsson says :

    Can someone point to an analysis showing USGovt/Pop ratio is relevant to something? According to FRED, from Jan. 2009 (Obama's inauguration) to Aug. 2011 the Federal workforce increased by 67 thousand from 2772 thousand to 2839 thousand. The effect on US depends on what the 67,000 are doing and is not measured by meaningless ratio.

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