Wisconsin employing fewer government workers
More than a year after state Capitol protests touched off by Republicans who all but ended collective bargaining for most public employees and made those workers pay more for health care and pensions, triggering a record number of retirements, it’s a fair question.
How many government workers are there in Wisconsin, and what’s the change since Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s first day on the job?
The state Department of Workforce Development says there were 397,300 government employees in Wisconsin in January 2012. That’s a decrease of 18,800—or 4.5 percent—from January 2011.
Because the state has an adult population of about 4.3 million, about 9 percent of Wisconsin adults, or one out of every 11, works for government at some level—federal, state or local.
You may find this interesting, although it has nothing to do with Wisconsin’s numbers: “The percentage of public employees in the workforces of [27 industrialized] countries ranges from 6.35 percent in Singapore to 33.87 percent in Sweden,” a respected federal judge, Richard Posner, said in a blog post last year.
Sorry for the digression. Back to Wisconsin.
In that one-year period, DWD reported the following workforce changes by units of government:
--The number of federal government employees fell by 900 (-1 percent, from 29,500 to 28,600).
--The number of state government employees dropped by 9,400 (-9.6 percent, from 97,300 to 87,900).
--The number of local government employees decreased by 8,500 (-2.9 percent from 289,300 to 280,800).
That’s the easy part. Good luck trying to identify exactly what types of jobs Wisconsin governments lost in that period.
For example, the federal report that included statewide numbers “does not provide categories of local government employees,” a DWD official said.
And asking exactly which federal agencies—Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture, or Department of Health and Human Services—gained or lost Wisconsin employees in that one-year period is like asking the Pentagon what it paid for a certain gun.
Counting jobs in state agencies also gets complicated because it depends on several factors, such as the dates covered by the report, whether you count only jobs paid for by state taxes or those paid for by any source of funds (so-called “all funds” jobs).
But, thanks to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, here was the one-year change in the number of all-funds jobs in the largest state agencies over that year:
--UW System—1.4 percent gain in full-time jobs, from 34,143 in 2011 to 34,624 one year later.
--State Department of Corrections—3.1 percent drop in the number of jobs, from 10,596 to 10,262. That drop has prompted prison guards to complain, at several unofficial hearings called by legislators, of low morale, longer work shifts and more dangerous conditions.
--State Department of Health Services—3.4 percent increase in jobs, going from 5,694 in 2011 to 5,890 one year later. This agency administers the Medicaid program, which provides health care to about one in five Wisconsin residents.
--State Department of Transportation—4.4 percent decrease in jobs, going from 3,542 in 2011 to 3,386 in 2012.
Last year, the state Department of Public Instruction reported that public schools lost about 4,000 jobs in a year. DPI’s numbers suggests that almost half of the 8,500 jobs lost in local governments were teachers, administrators, classroom aides and other school support staff.
Then, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said the lost jobs resulted from a cut in state school aid and added, “Districts had to cut staff, eliminate vital support services and reduce course offerings, narrowing educational opportunities for Wisconsin’s school children.”
Republicans—starting with Walker—disagree with Evers. The governor has spent the last year saying the changes he and GOP legislators passed gave Wisconsin school districts “the tools” to save money without crippling public education.
Labor economist Laura Dresser, associate director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy at UW-Madison, said government workers tend to have higher salaries because so many are teachers who have four-year college degrees.
Asked about the impact of losing 18,800 government jobs in Wisconsin, Dresser said, “That’s shrinking the economy.”
Unlike the number of private-sector jobs, Dresser added, the number of government jobs “is the one factor we have the most influence over. It’s the one thing we can control.”
Steven Walters is a senior producer for WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.