Special Report

States With the Most Public Sector Workers

The public sector — federal, state, and local government — employs about 20.2 million people, measuring almost 15% of the total American workforce. Educational instruction and library jobs, however, account for fully 74% of all government employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (See the states paying teachers most and least.)

While a total of 136,000 government jobs, at all levels, were added in March, 125,600 of those were in state or local education, reflecting a transition back towards in-person learning for students nationwide. Nonetheless, state and local public education is still down 863,200 jobs since February 2020, according to an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report on jobs and unemployment.

The EPI believes that the positive growth that has been seen in the public sector has been “likely due at least in part to the impact of the state and local government aid in the ARP [American Rescue Plan].” Increased availability of COVID-19 vaccines has probably also been a contributing factor.

The pandemic affected all segments of the public sector badly, not just education. In May of last year, the Urban Institute reported that almost a million state and local government jobs had been lost in April 2020 alone, and that public employment in all 50 states had decreased since the beginning of the crisis by rates ranging from 2% in Alabama to 14% in Wisconsin. 

Click here to see the state with the most public workers.

To identify the states with the most public sector workers, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed public employment totals as a percentage of total employment in every state using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics program. Occupational data is for 2019. The median household income for each state was obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.

As those jobs come back today, there remains a considerable variation in the extent of public employment from state to state. Fewer than 12% of workers in Massachusetts, for instance, hold government positions, while more than 27% do in Wyoming. (These are the highest paid public employees in every state.)