Stateline Story

States Do More With Smaller Workforce, Census Says

  • July 25, 2001
  • By Kathleen Murphy
When Hawaiians say "haku," they mean employer, but for a large percentage of them, the word means state government.

Hawaii, where nearly one of every 20 citizens draws a state paycheck, ranked first among the states in payroll size based on population during 2000, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Other states with a high percentage of full- and part-time state workers included , in descending order, Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota and New Mexico. States with fewer state workers per capita were Nevada, Illinois, California and Florida.

Nationally , state governments employed the equivalent of 4.1 million full-time workers last year, a 1.2 percent increase over 1999, according to the 2000 Annual Survey of State and Local Government Employment and Payroll.

Higher education made up the biggest segment of state government workforces nationwide, followed by hospitals and prisons. While the nation's population has increased 7.5 percent since 1995, the number of full-time equivalent state workers has jumped just 2.8 percent during the same time period.

"That suggests that state employees may be going up in number but they are declining on a per capita basis," said Carl Van Horn of Rutgers University's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

As more middle managers retire and are not replaced, and as the introduction of technology eliminates some positions, the state workforces are mirroring a trend in the private sector, Van Horn said.

Overall, the states are delivering services to more people using fewer state employees per capita. For taxpayersdepending on your viewpoint -- that may mean good news due to more productivity, or it could mean a decline in quality of service, Van Horn said.

The trend also echoes the federal government's decline in workforce per capita during the past decade.

While California claimed one of the smallest state payrolls relative to its population, with just one out of 100 people getting a state paycheck, the state ranked No. 1 in the dollar-size of its payroll. The state spent $1.5 billion on 444,069 full- and part-time employees, Census data showed.

The number of Illinois state employees ranked lowest relative to its population, with just 1.2 percent of its roughly 12 million citizens working for the state.

The Census Bureau defines a payroll as salaries, wages, and fees earned by full- and part-time state employees. The figures include overtime, bonuses and incentive payments as well as amounts withheld for taxes and employee contributions to retirement systems.

The size of a state and its social and political history can influence how many workers are employed by government.

Burdett Loomis, program coordinator for the Robert J. Dole Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at the University of Kansas, said, "The more activist a state, the more it focuses on more social programs, and pretty clearly it's going to have more employees. Southern states are notorious for delivering fewer services to the poor versus socially progressive states like in the upper Midwest."

Some state governments' payrolls can appear smaller, Loomis said, because they farm out services to counties and localities.

In Hawaii, the number of full- and part-time state government employees grew 1.9 percent over 1999, according to Census data. The state of Hawaii paid $158.6 million to 67,750 of the state's 1.2 million citizens last year.

Since 1995, the number of full-time equivalent employees in Hawaii has increased 6.7 percent while the state's population grew 2.7 percent over the same time period. Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano has supported proposals to pay state workers to quit or take early retirement as part of a workforce restructuring program for public employees.

Randy Kusaka, spokesman for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, said the number of Hawaii's state employees has historically shown growth as the state has tried to keep pace with population growth and the resulting need for more schools. In 2000, higher education, hospitals and transportation accounted for the most growth in the Hawaii payroll over the previous year, according to Census data.