The Incredible Shrinking U.S. Government

More

What do Republican presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II have in common that Obama doesn't? Total government grew under those presidents after they faced recessions. By contrast, federal, state, and local government has declined by more than half a million workers in the last three years. Big government ain't what it used to be. epi_snapshot-publicemployees.png

The graph above comes courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute. Since the recession officially ended in January 2009, the economy has bid goodbye to 584,000 government jobs (private sector employment is up by 2.8 million). That's a roughly a 2 percent drop. Though the federal workforce actually grew between 2009 and 2011, it's now shrinking at the fastest rate since the 1950s, as my colleague Derek Thompson has written. By comparison, government payrolls increased by at least a full percentage point during the thirty months after each of the last major recessions, while Republican presidents presided over the economy. 

It's difficult to measure precisely what effect these losses ave had on the unemployment rate. The EPI argues that "these extra government jobs would have helped preserve about 500,000 private sector jobs." I'm not honestly in a position to critique their math. But I can say this much: there are now 196,000 more unemployed government workers than at the beginning of the recovery. The remainder have either found jobs in other industries, in which case they've displaced other applicants, or have left the job force.  

It's sad because it was preventable. More aid to states could have kept them from cutting back so severely. That would have meant more people paying taxes, more people able to keep up with payments on their homes, and more people shopping in stores. The individuals who lost their jobs were teachers and firefighters, trash collectors and police fighters, and yes, probably a fairly large assortment of bureaucrats responsible for running that sometimes creaky machine called government. And our economy is poorer for their loss.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Fascinating Short Film About the Multiverse

If life is a series of infinite possibilities, what does it mean to be alive?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In