The public payroll

though state finances are back at a point where almost everyone agrees that spending must be brought “under control,” Massachusetts already has fewer government employees, when taking into account our size, than most other states. Part of this is because bigger states tend to get by with proportionately smaller staffs. But the Bay State is also low (ranked 36th per capita) in terms of workers at the municipal level.

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Looking at the U.S. as a whole, a striking difference between 1994 and 2004 is that the number of state-government employees went down by 4 percent (when adjusted for population changes) while local-government workers went up by almost the same amount. This shift seems partly due to a greater emphasis on education, which is largely run at the county or municipal level. The number of state and local employees in primary and secondary education was 204 for every 10,000 residents at the beginning of the period and 221 a decade later. During the same time, the equivalent measure of workers in “public welfare,” “health,” and “hospitals” fell from 73 to 63. Massachusetts has been part of that trend: The number of workers in education rose from 209 per 10,000 residents to 236, and the number in health and welfare dropped from 56 to 50. (The public sector provides a relatively small share of hospital services here—similar to our higher-education picture.)

But why didn’t the number of state employees per 10,000 residents drop here, as it did in most of the country? Because of our negligible population growth. Our full-time-equivalent state workforce went from 82,000 to 88,000, essentially matching the change in people who live here. In Nevada, the workforce went from 19,000 to 26,000, but because population rose at a much faster rate, on a per capita basis, state government there actually became leaner, if not meaner.