More With Less

Public-sector employment continues its slide on the state level, even as spending increases from both Capitols and the federal budget balloons.

The evidence of both good news and bad news of public-sector employment trends over the past decade:

“In some instances, non-profits or the private sector are better-positioned to provide certain services — whether alone or in partnership with government agencies at all levels.” — Sarah Steelman, Missouri Secretary of Administration

• Exhibit A: If you’re a limited-government libertarian, you might take some solace in knowing that the nation’s armies of federal, state, county and city employees has shrunk by more than 660,000 since peaking in 2010.

• Exhibit B: If you have to stand in long lines or while away your day on hold waiting for resolution of basic government services at the local level, Exhibit A will frustrate the heck out of you.

According to the Bureau of Labor Services,  government employment shot upright following passage of the American Recover and Reinvestment Act in 2009, hitting a decade high of 23 million. It has tapered off since, ending March at 22.34 million nationwide.

The bistate region accounted for nearly 12,000 job losses at just the state level. The numbers for both Missouri and Kansas reflected the longstanding pressures on their state budgets, as well as commitments from the executive suites to pursue leaner, more effective services. Missouri’s work-force decline of 6,703 employees was an overall reduction of 11.96 percent, while Kansas has slashed its FTE count by 5,189, which comes to 27.35 percent.

Those trend lines have emerged even as spending at the state level has increased on either side of the state line. Over the past decade, Missouri’s total expenditures have rose 27.43 percent, from $21.44 billion to $27.32 billion, while in Kansas, the annual tab has popped to $15.95 billion from $12.69 billion in 2008—an increase of 25.69 percent. (Worth noting: Despite howls that each state was cutting budgets beyond the bone for most of the decade, those percentage increases in spending ran well above an aggregate general inflation rate of 16.87 percent over that same span.)

Sarah Steelman, Missouri’s secretary of administration, said the ongoing reductions reflect a commitment to create “a more focused, more efficient and better-performing government. In some instances, non-profits or the private sector are better-positioned to provide certain services—whether alone or in partnership with government agencies at all levels.” Meeting the expectations that citizens have for wise stewardship of their tax dollars, she said, meant creating a focus on the services that government is best-positioned to deliver.

Two tactics for getting there, she said, would involve both that focus and “improving the management of our agencies with common-sense best practices in how we work together in the areas of technology, business processes and talent management,” among others.

At the local level, employment again is topped by the Big Three of government: federal workers and state workers on both sides of the state line. In addition  to those anchors, this year’s list (again) is most heavily populated by public K-12 school districts, which account for fully half of the Top 50 positions. That list also includes eight cities, five counties, five universities and four public health authorities or municipal hospitals.