News reports depicting Washington, DC, Metro subways nearly empty at rush hour on Tuesday following the (partial) federal shutdown emphasize that government is the major employer in the nation’s capital.
But what about Massachusetts? How important are government jobs as a component of our employment? The answer may surprise you.
Last week, Floyd Norris of The New York Times published an article examining the proportion of civilian government employees (federal, state, and local) in each state. His aim was to determine whether or not Republicans, who oppose "big government" in principle, actually maintain lower levels of government employment compared to Democrats.
Another approach, less partisan than cultural, would contrast politically "regular" states like Massachusetts, where government was historically used to create large numbers of lower-skilled "jobs for the boys," with "reform" states like California, where progressive traditions emphasized efficient deployment of limited numbers of highly-qualified people.
Well, so much for those ideas. Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states, known for its traditional politics, turns out to rank forty-seventh among all states in the proportion of government employees in its workforce at 13.2 percent - below every state that voted for Romney in 2012 (the bottom 12 states went for Obama), and below both small-government New Hampshire, at 14.3 percent, and progressive California, at 16.1 percent. (The District of Columbia registered 31.8 percent, about twice the national average.) The Bay State was even lower, forty-eighth, when measured by government contribution to Gross State Product.
Massachusetts employers often insist that our commonwealth is characterized by intrusive, heavy-handed, and unresponsive government. These numbers do not refute those charges. They do suggest, however, that so-called "big government" has more to do with policies and practices than with the size of the public sector as such.