A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Government workers at all levels are taking a larger share of all compensation and getting paid more than in the past.

Yet, an editor at a national magazine claims government is the smallest since the 1960s.

"We now have our smallest government in 45 years," said Jordan Weissmann, an associate editor at The Atlantic.

Weissman based his opinions on an analysis done by The Hamilton Project, a public policy offshoot of The Brookings Institution.

But Weissmann’s claim is based on the number of government jobs as a percent of the total population. It deserves a closer look.

James Hohman, fiscal policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says the size of government can't be judge solely on the number of government workers.

Hohman questions Weissmann’s comparison between the number of government jobs and the total population.

"With falling labor force participation, it's natural that jobs across the board are falling on a per capita basis," Hohman said.

So Hohman tested government employment and spending to other measures. First, Hohman checked total government jobs as a percent of employment.

As of July of 2012, government jobs made up 16.5 percent of the total U.S. workforce. The last time the percentage of government jobs was that low was August 2008, not the 1960s. It was as low as 15.7 percent in September 2000 and was 16.8 percent in December 2008.

In January of 2000, there were 20.8 million government workers at all levels. That number had climbed to 22.9 million in April of 2010. As of July of 2012, it is 21.9 million.

But Hohman also pointed out that fewer jobs don’t translate into spending less on government employment. Government compensation at all levels increased after being adjusted for inflation from $1.33 trillion in 2000 to $1.69 trillion in 2011, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Government workers received 17.6 percent of all compensation in 2000 and 20.4 percent in 2011.

"Taxpayers also care about the cost of government workers," Hohman said. "They're picking up a larger bill for fewer workers."

Additionally, entitlement programs play a part in the size of government and are not specifically tied to employment, Hohman said.

For example, The Heritage Foundation reports that 67.3 million Americans depend upon federal government for housing, food, income or student aid. The report warns of an impending class warfare between those dependent on the government and those who pay for it.

Hohman points out that total government output when compared to the nation's gross domestic product — or the measure of all goods and services produced in the U.S. — was 13.2 percent last year. It peaked at 13.8 percent in 2009, the highest since 14 percent in 1993.

Michigan’s numbers mirror the national data.

As of June 2012, all government jobs in Michigan made up 15.2 percent of the workforce, the lowest since July of 2005. Government jobs in Michigan accounted for 17.5 percent of all compensation in the state in 2011. That number was 16.6 percent in 2007.

"You'd have to squint and turn your head to see the size of government as anything less than expansive," Hohman said.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Director of Education Policy Audrey Spalding describes her latest study on right-to-work law violations in public school contracts and suggests why districts and unions are ignoring the law.


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