The State Workforce: Leaner Than You’d Think

How many state workers does it take to screw in a light bulb? I’m not sure, but a new CBP analysis suggests that it takes fewer in California than in 47 other states. You might think otherwise if you’ve listened to the rhetoric coming out of the gubernatorial and budget debates, but California’s state workforce is rather lean. Our recent analysis of what state workers do and how state government has changed over the past two decades finds that most state employees are working in higher education, guarding prisons, and building, maintaining, and patrolling our highways. Most Californians probably do not think first of professors and prison guards when they think of state workers, but the University of California (UC) and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) do, in fact, employ the most state employees. The California State University (CSU), the Department of Transportation, and the California Highway Patrol are the third-, fourth-, and fifth-largest state employers, respectively. Together, these five groups of employers account for 64.2 percent of all state employment.

The analysis also reveals that the most dramatic change in employment between 1988-89 and 2008-09 has been the growth in the CDCR, a department that would expand even more under some gubernatorial candidates’ proposals to build more prisons. Over the past two decades, the number of CDCR workers more than doubled (123.1 percent). In contrast, over that same period the UC and the CSU combined grew by 42.3 percent, and the state’s population grew by 34.3 percent. In fact, the CDCR grew at four times the rate of the rest of state employment (31.2 percent). So while the state’s workforce increased slightly – from 8.7 state workers per 1,000 residents in 1988-89 to an estimated 9.3 state workers in 2009-10 – when CDCR employees are excluded the number of state employees per 1,000 residents actually decreased, from 7.8 in 1988-89 to 7.6 in 2009-10.

Finally, when compared to the rest of the country, California ranked 48th out of the 50 states with respect to the number of state employees per 10,000 residents in 2008, and 41st in state and local employees. So while state workers may seem like easy targets, especially during election season, an oversized state workforce is more myth than reality.

— Raul Macias and Jean Ross

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