The Dataway: State and Local Government Employment: 2002 and 2011
One of the dilemmas of writing on Room Eight is whether or not to repeat myself. On one hand, there may be some people who have never actually seen data on comparative public employment, or whose interests or ideology may cause them to try to ignore it. For them, my usual exhaustively explained and sourced “beat them into the dust” (in the words of a former boss) style might make sense. But for anyone who has read this stuff before, the result is boredom. Last year I wrote twelve single typed pages on this data, in four posts. Did anybody read it, after all that effort? Who knows?
So this time, I am going to try to write less, tossing off comments in emulation of the most popular and prolific Room Eight poster. To do so, I’m going to assume that anyone reading my blog has the spreadsheet posted here, printed out and in front of them. If you haven’t already, you should download this and print out the “local output” and “state output” tables, before reading what I have written here. I’ll also assume that there is much I don’t need to say about how New York compares with other places, because I’ve said it over and over again, ad nauseum. And I’ll assume that the reader is willing to assume that if I say something is true, then it is backed by facts, without once again regurgitating exhaustive proof and specific numbers. Rest assured that data is there.
To create this spreadsheet, I dropped the new data into the spot where the 2010 data had been, briefly getting a view of them both. And in doing so I saw that by March 2011 the Great Recession had shifted from the private sector to the public sector, with cutbacks in employment both in New York City and elsewhere. The federal stimulus package had expired, and the decline in tax revenues – and increase in pension spending after the retroactive enhancements during the stock market bubble – really began to hit public services.
Total U.S. local government employment slipped from 3,980 full time equivalents in March 2010 to 3,877 in March 2011. Not surprisingly it fell more sharply for New York City, from 5,135 to 4,937, but for a change it also fell in the rest of New York State, from 5,084 to 4,820. Bear in mind that in most of the rest of New York State there is no public transit, public hospitals, public housing, and in some cases public water, sewer and trash collection to explain the relatively high local employment number. In New Jersey, the decrease was from 4,414 to 4,181. But this spreadsheet compares 2011 not with 2010 but with the similar year of 2002, another weak economic year when the U.S. was struggling to get out of recession.
While tax revenues were weak in both years, however, the cost of the pension deals of the late 1990s and 2000 (in New York State they continued through 2008) was not being paid for 2002. That cost was deferred, and thus inflated. With debts also playing a role, state and local government employment per 100,000 residents – and public services – were lower in March 2011 than they had been in March 2002, and not because of lower taxes. State government employment per 100,000 people fell to 1,373 from 1,437 in the U.S., to 1,171 from 1,238 in New York State, and to 1,352 from 1,374 in New Jersey. Local government employment fell to 3,877 from 3,985 in the U.S., to 4,937 from 5,360 in New York City, and to 4,181 from 4,302 in New Jersey. In the rest of New York State, local government employment increased from 4,820 in March 2011 from 4,683 in March 2002, as a long run local government employment boom has only recently ended.
Public School Employment
The sad story of the incipient re-destruction of the New York City public schools due to retroactive pension enhancements, redoing the Mayor Lindsey deals and making them even richer with predictable results, has been discussed previously here using other data. But what is surprising is how little public school instructional employment fell from March 2002 to March 2011, even though the United Federation of Teachers got the same deals for those cashing in and moving out as the other unions in 1995 and 2000, plus another massive deal in 2008. Other public services (and public unions) have been sacrificed more, costs have been deferred, and taxes have been raised to reduce the gutting of the teaching force. That differential treatment to protect the schools has continued right through the latest round of cutbacks, announced yesterday. It certainly makes no sense for the UFT and the other unions, notably DC 37, to endorse the same person for Mayor next year.
From March 2010 to March 2011, the sky high level of public school employment in the rest of New York State actually fell. Their pension costs are soaring, but to a level far less than New York City, and the teacher pension fund for the rest of the state is better funded.
For me the real shocker was the big increase in NYC private school employment, in the face of the ongoing downsizing of the Catholic School system. It occurred in every borough but Queens, and really took hold from 2008 to 2011 as the NYC public schools were cut to pay for the pension deals. I was so surprised I went to two other data sources to make sure the increase was real. It is. As far as I know all NYC charter schools are government owned and operated, not privately owned and operated (as some are elsewhere), so that is not an explanation.
Public School Payroll
What the public employee unions want is as little money visible in the form of cash pay as possible, and as much as possible hidden in lots of days, hours and years paid to do nothing in (or out of) retirement, as they can get. They also want starting pay to be low relative to the pay of those cashing in and moving out, so it becomes harder for city to recruit qualified and motivated workers despite high labor costs. In the wake of the Lindsay pension deals of the late 1960s, New York City was left with the lowest paid teachers in the metro area.
That started to change during the “school reform” era, and a 20 percent increase in teacher pay under Mayor Bloomberg was paid for in part by an 18 percent increase in property taxes. You can see that increase in the data on payroll per employee in the public schools in March 2002 and March 2011, as NYC teacher pay began to exceed the U.S. average by an amount similar to the private sector.
But in the wake of the 2008 pension deal teacher pay, particularly take home pay for new teachers, is being cut relative to inflation even as “school spending” -- actually early retirement spending – soars. And there is no money for raises, no matter what they say, because the pension still isn’t being fully funded.
Public Higher Education
As I’ve noted, as measured based on dollars few public services have been cut more than taxpayer support for public higher education. Nationally, tuition pay has soared, and in most places, including New York City, local government (community college) instructional employment fell. For New York State (SUNY/CUNY) however, instructional employment rose slightly relative to population from 2002 to 2011. There was a slight increase in the U.S. as a whole and New Jersey as well.
The great mystery is why non-instructional employment is so much higher than instructional employment for this public service, everywhere. One explanation is that much of the instruction is being now done by low-paid adjuncts counted as contract workers, not full time or part time employees. But if the instructional workers really are just slightly more than one-third of the workforce in public higher education, the case for on-line instruction – with just the professors, the students, and computers -- becomes compelling.
The data shows the cutbacks to the NYPD – from three times the number of police officers relative to population as the national average, to just two and one-half times more than the national average relative to population. And yet in budget testimony we’ll hear, from the head of the PBA and perhaps from the Commissioner, that we have no right to expect the police to keep us safe with a mere 2 ½ times the average number of officers, taking home 24.6% more than the average amount of money for police officers (not much different than the 30.0% for the non-Wall Street private sector), and with as much money being paid to the retired as those on the job. Why? Are New Yorkers so inherently criminal that it takes an army to prevent things from getting out of control?
Don’t you think they ought to be able to get the job done with just double the average number of officers? Couldn’t some civil enforcement – such as traffic tickets and control – be transferred to a less expensive force?
Moreover, with the high cost of the police overall, the low staring pay is a disgrace. It has resulted in less good police at a high cost. Based on their March 2011 payroll per employee, the average annual police officer (and this would include managers since they are sworn officers too) pay was $85,100. Not bad – more than I get for example, and I don’t get a pension, have to pay for a lot of my health insurance, etc. But the figure for the New York State Police, most of whom are in lower-cost upstate New York, was $110,900!
Employment in this category is far above the U.S. average for New York City, local governments in the rest of the state, and the State of New York. Even though crime has always been far below average in most of New York State, and is now below average in New York City as well. New York’s corrections employment trend relative to population was down from 2002 to 2011, however.
One can see the noticeable decline in New York City Transit employment relative to population from 2002 to 2011. And that was with the former NYC private bus lines shifting to the public sector (note the huge decrease in private mass transit employment in NYC during those years). A decrease in maintenance and service went with it. In the rest of New York State, however, mass transit employment somehow went up relative to population from 2002 to 2011. Within the MTA, the TWU has a point – people always look to New York City for savings in a budget crisis, but the worst labor abuses are elsewhere.
Why is local government highways employment double the national average in the rest of New York State? State highways employment is lower in New York, but only slightly, and in New York City, with more than 40.0% of the state’s population, local government workers maintain the roads, bridges and tunnels. Lots of pavement relative to population? No, in New York (and New Jersey) the reverse is true.
New York City Sanitation employment is sky high relative to the national average. And this is not explained by private companies picking up the trash elsewhere, because the difference is huge even when data for the private solid waste collection industry is considered. This year I finally thought of a possible explanation – in most of the country, they don’t have street sweepers, just solid waste collectors. So I went to NYC budget documents to see how many NYC sanitation workers were collecting, and how many were sweeping. No luck – the highest level of detail has “Collecting and Street Sweeping” as one line item. In any event, street sweeping is financed by alternate side of the street tickets, not taxes. Elsewhere in the country, solid waste collection is often financed by fees.
One big difference between Bloomberg/Quinn and the prior regime is an appreciation of the value of the Parks Department, which was priority zero under Dinkins and Giuliani. After all, most people are not parents, criminals or in high crime areas, in buildings likely to burn, or in need of social services. For most working and taxpaying New Yorkers, parks, recreation and culture, and the streets and transit system, are the only public services they actually use. Those they appreciate most. And those they rely on more than other Americans, who have large private backyards, more private cars, and get most of their culture and recreation at the mall.
NYC parks, recreation and culture employment is still below the U.S. average relative to population, and high private employment in parks and culture doesn’t really offset it, because so much of it serves tourists and the broader country. But it is much higher than it was. Private employment in museums, zoos, parks etc. is up as well, as most of the new public parks are organized as “private” non-profits.
On the other hand, Speaker Quinn’s five day per week library service lasted one year before soaring pension costs killed it off. An absence of teacher layoffs despite their 25/55 pension deal was a higher priority. With just about the highest state and local tax burden as share of income anywhere, with the city’s private economy having recovered all its job losses during the recession, with the stock market near its all time high, and with interest rates near all time lows, why do such choices continue to have to be made here? If you’ve read enough of my posts, you know the reasons. Others prefer not to talk about it.
New York State’s employment Parks/Natural Resources continues to fall relative to population. Most of it is now financed by fees, but most of those downstate either consider themselves too rich to vacation and recreate in Upstate New York (as opposed to more prestigious destinations) or are in fact too poor. There hasn’t been the investment in this public service that there once was. The same is true of the national parks.
I’d like to see more coordination between the intercity bus industry and the state to promote travel to upstate to New York City’s growing number of car-free non-poor people. I have an atlas of the Railroad Maps of North America, and the railroads used to distribute maps with upstate destinations to promote tourism (and ridership to) the area. The railroads were also key in the formation of U.S. national parks. I have some specific ideas on the subject, and might write a post. (But this is the State of New York we are talking about, so why bother? Nothing is going to happen unless the insiders see a way to get paid anyway.)
At the federal level, little has been cut back more than public housing and housing subsidies for renters (even as tax breaks and back door subsidies for owner-occupied housing continue to soar in the wake of the housing bubble). New York City has always had a huge public housing system and housing subsidy programs, but these continue to ebb away. The good news is that the abandoned buildings are no more, and unsubsidized private construction is up. But the New York City Housing Authority continues to do less with fewer workers.
New York City social services employment, public and private, remains very high compared with the national average, but it is falling relative to population. The same may be said of hospitals employment. Services for seniors, however, continue to boom in NYC, with employment in the private home health care industry more doubling relative to population from 2002 to 2011. Nursing home employment fell relative to population, but not by nearly as much.
Public Health, Bureaucracy, Etc.
Employment levels are fairly typical relative to population in New York. Except for the state judiciary, where employment levels are quite high. Pay levels are also well above the U.S. average, though many of the judges are in high cost Downstate New York.