Stateline Story

South, West Lead Nation In Public Service Hiring

  • April 30, 1999
  • By Blair S. Walker

WASHINGTON - State and local government hiring not only continued to grow in 1998, but did so at such a torrid pace in the South that it slightly exceeded private sector growth and matched it in the West, a new study indicates.

Last year, 307,000 new employees were added to state and local payrolls, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. That compares with 272,000 for 1997.

In terms of 1998, the South and West accounted for a whopping 270,000 new positions, or roughly 80 percent of the new state and local governments created.

"Usually the Northeast is the part of the county that is associated with government growth," says Rockefeller Institute senior fellow Samuel Ehrenhalt. Last year, however, private sector growth in the Northeast tripled that of state and local governments, Ehrenhalt notes.

States with the biggest increases in state and local employment last year, 2 percent or better, were Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

The outlook has changed drastically for at least one of those states. Tennessee is in the midst of a budget crisis and may let go 2,000 state workers

States in the North and East typically had job increases around 1 percent or less in 1998, the Rockefeller study found.

The performance of the South and the West is easily explained, says Governing magazine senior correspondent Jonathan Walters. "In high-growth states like Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Idaho, those places are having to gear up."

"People are moving there and demanding services," Walters says

Not surprisingly, the three states responsible for nearly one third of all state hiring in 1998 -- California, Texas and Florida -- are in the South and West. Those states added a total of 100,000 new employees.

It may be tempting to assume states resorted to across-the-board hiring binges thanks to budget surpluses, but that's not the case. The bulk of state and local employment occurred in three areas, says Walters: Law enforcement, corrections and teaching. Move away from those sectors, and state and local hiring was actually flat or down in 1998, Walters and Ehrenhalt agree.

Walters called the hiring spurt for teachers "pretty amazing." As an example, he cited Clark County, Nevada, which is home to Las Vegas.

Clark County "is having to add something on the equivalent of one school a week," says Walters. "I talked with the people in Clark County, and their planning office has had to add staff just to deal with the nuts and bolts of providing services for all the new people coming in."

Education was the engine responsible for about three-fifths of the 307,000 new state and local government positions created in 1998, according to the Rockefeller Center. Local schools got 157,000 of the new hires, while the work pool for state institutions grew by 33,000.

In the area of gender, women continued to outpace men in the state and local workplace.

On the state level, 55.7 percent of government workers were women in 1998, compared with 44.3 percent for men. Among local employees, 59 percent -- or nearly three in five, were women, compared with 41 percent for men.

In 1994, the state breakdown was 53.5 percent women, versus 46.5 percent men. On the local level, it was 58.7 percent women, 41.3 percent men.

The disparity can be traced to the increased hiring of teachers, who tend to be women, Ehrenhalt says.

There's another factor, according to Governing magazine's Walters. "For the last 10 years, there has been a push on the part of governments -- partly for legal reasons -- to get women into nontraditional positions," he says.

Three to five years from now there will probably be an even greater increase in teacher hiring, because large numbers of teachers are nearing retirement age, Walters predicts. On the other hand, he foresees a slowdown in budget appropriations, and hiring, for corrections.

"You're seeing more debate now about how much merit there is in tough sentencing," he says. "That's what's driving this corrections boom." 

Tags: Labor