States Where the Most (and Least) People Work for the Government

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1. Wyoming

Wyoming employed the largest share of state and local government workers in the country, at 22.4% of its workforce. While the proportion of workers in state government positions was higher than the national proportion, Wyoming’s counties, cities, and towns accounted for a disproportionately large share of public workers. These local governments employed 17% of the state’s workers, one of the highest rates in the country. Like many of the states with the most government employees, a large share of Wyoming’s households live in low density population areas. More than 37% of the state’s population lived in rural areas, compared to just 21% of the nation’s households. Without a flourishing private sector, it is often the case that a larger proportion of a state’s economy is driven by the government. In Wyoming, 11% of its GDP came from state and local jobs, the seventh highest share among all states.

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2. Alaska

Alaska’s state and local governments employed approximately 20% of the state’s workforce, much higher than the national share of 14.2%. This relatively large share of public employment was likely necessary to provide services across the state because, unlike most states, Alaska’s population was much more dispersed. Nearly 41% of state households lived in rural areas, nearly double the national share of 21%. Living in rural areas typically means residents cannot benefit as easily from the advantages that urban areas provide, such as ready access to suppliers and consumers. In Alaska, however, high oil revenues alone helped raise median household income to $72,237, higher than the comparable national figure of $52,250.

3. New Mexico

More than 20% of New Mexico’s workforce was employed by state and local governments, the third highest proportion in the country. The relatively large public sector workforce was likely necessary to provide services for the state’s widely dispersed population. There were just 17 people per square mile in the state, the sixth lowest population density nationwide. Rural populations also do not have the same economic advantages cities provide, and public sectors tend to be larger in areas with relatively small private sectors. At just $39,825, New Mexico had one of the lowest GDPs per capita in the country. New Mexico’s nearly 22% poverty rate also may have strained state and local public services. Like several other states with large shares of the labor force employed by state and local governments, just over 50% of the state’s population 16 years and older had a job, one of the lowest proportions in the country. The presence of several large government research facilities also raised the the concentration of federal jobs, which accounted for nearly 4% of the workforce, the fifth highest such share in the country.

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4. Mississippi

One in five Mississippi workers were employed by the state, or local governments, the fourth largest proportion nationwide. Mississippi’s counties, cities, and towns accounted for a disproportionately large share of public workers. Local governments employed just over 14% of the state’s workers, the second-highest rates in the country. Like many of the states with the most government employees, a large share of Mississippi’s population lives in low density population areas. More than half of the state’s households were in rural areas, compared to just 21% of the nation’s households. Without a flourishing private sector, it is often the case that a larger proportion of a state’s economy is driven by the government. In Mississippi, 12.5% of its GDP came from state and local jobs, the highest share among all states. The state’s nation-leading poverty rate may also have strained state and local budgets.

5. Oklahoma

At just $41,348, Oklahoma’s GDP per capita was one of the lowest in the country. Areas with large rural populations often have low GDPs, and roughly 35% of Oklahoma’s households lived in rural areas, much higher than the national share. Living in rural areas makes it more difficult for the population to benefit from the advantages cities afford, such as lower transportation costs and access to opportunities that help drive economic growth. And as in many other states with large rural populations, more than 18% of Oklahoma’s workforce was employed by state and local governments, the fifth largest proportion nationwide. The annual median household income in the state was $45,690, almost $7,000 below the national median income. However, residents may be better off than the data suggest because of the lower cost of living in rural areas. Statewide, the cost of living is 10% more affordable in Oklahoma compared with the national average.