Stateline Story

Focus On Education Spurs Government Job Growth

A sharp increase in state and local education hiring caused the largest government job growth in five years in the third quarter of 1998, according to a newly released report from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for the Study of the States. The Albany, N.Y. think tank said its calculations showed that state government job growth from July to September exceeded the private job growth rate for the first time since 1992.

State and local government payrolls expanded by nearly 98,000 jobs for the three months ending September 1998, the report said. Local school systems created 54,000 of those jobs, the largest increase in school hiring in the last eight years, it said.

The surge in hiring came at a time when Congress was moving toward approval of the initial funding of President Clinton's plan to put 100,000 more teachers in American classrooms, but Samuel M. Ehrenhalt, a Rockefeller senior fellow responsible for the report, said this had a minimal impact.

"It certainly helped to make it (the hiring surge) possible, but was a small part of the picture. What is driving the increase is a shift in fundamentals to improve education and catch up with rising enrollments, Ehrenhalt said.

State and local government payrolls expanded by nearly 98,000 jobs for the three months ending September 1998, the report said. Local school systems created 54,000 of the jobs.

The most surprising development was the sharp difference in job growth by region, Ehrenhalt said. The South and West accounted for 84 percent of all new jobs in government hiring, with the new jobs overwhelmingly in local government.

"Part of why the growth rate is so strongly disproportionate can be attributed to the rapid population growth of the region," Ehrenhalt said. "But it also shows that those states are looking increasingly to government for the services that people want. It's so different from the basic ideology of cutting back government, and it's happening in those areas with the strongest sentiment to restrain government."

Erhenhalt pointed in particular to Nevada, which recorded a 6.6 percent increase in government hiring year over year from 1997 third quarter figures, the largest rate of public sector job growth of any of the states. He said Nevada's experience reflected a pattern prevalent throughout the West, a region in the forefront of the movement to decrease government.

States like New York, commonly perceived as the most glaring examples of bloated government are actually where downsizing is occurring, the report showed.

"New York was once thought of as the capital of government jobs," Ehrenhalt said. "New York's decreases reflect a real effort to cut back the scope of government. This combines with the economic situation to create real pressure to restrain government."

New York and the other 20 populous states of the north accounted for less than one fifth of the government job growth in the third quarter. Looked at over a 12-month period, government job growth in the North was even smaller, representing only one in 20 new government jobs.

Close to two-thirds of the 316,000 state and local government jobs created in the past year were education related, the report showed. In fact, education services have accounted for 1.3 million of the 2.1 million new jobs in state and local government employment during the 1990s, Ehrenhalt said.

"Clearly, though, this is not just a function of population growth," he said. "The emphasis on education policy all over the country reflects a fundamental change. The very strong increase in education employment is evidence of an effort to improve the process by adding people. "

California led the 38 states with government employment gains in the third quarter of 1998, reporting an increase of 18,000 state and local government jobs. Twelve states had a decline in state employment during the same period. South Carolina lost or eliminated 3,200 government jobs, the most in the survey.

"We always show a sharp drop between the second and third quarters of the year due to schools closing for the summer," Sam McClary of the South Carolina Employment Security Office said. "In fact, our figures show a slight overall increase in government, mainly due to normal population growth."

The Rockefeller Center report covers the most recent three months of data available, which includes adjusted August-October 1998 national data and July-September 1998 state-by-state data.

The Federal Government joined state governments in recording an increase in jobs last summer after six years of decline, thanks mainly to two agencies. The Bureau of the Census added 18,000 workers in October to gear up for the coming census, and the United States Postal Service added 14,000 jobs.

The Postal Service employs one-third of all federal workers and has added 82,000 jobs in the past five years. Employment in other federal government agencies was down by 300,000 in the same period, two-thirds of which took place in the civilian workforce of the Defense Department.