When the last monthly jobs report came out there wasn’t particularly good news contained within. Growth remained tepid and, as Ed noted at the time, barely kept up with the nation’s nominal population growth. In an earlier era those would have been seen as highly disappointing numbers at best, but now it’s apparently just the new normal. Buried further down in the data there was some even more depressing news, though. As Terence P. Jeffrey at CNS News pointed out yesterday, a negative trend which has been going on for quite some time now has continued and reached a less than impressive milestone. The number of people now working for the government outnumbers the American workforce employed in manufacturing by nearly ten million.
Government employees in the United States outnumber manufacturing employees by 9,932,000, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Federal, state and local government employed 22,213,000 people in August, while the manufacturing sector employed 12,281,000.
The BLS has published seasonally-adjusted month-by-month employment data for both government and manufacturing going back to 1939. For half a century—from January 1939 through July 1989—manufacturing employment always exceeded government employment in the United States, according to these numbers.
This chart they provide tells the whole story.
So basically we reached a tipping point way back in 1989. Before that, manufacturing jobs outnumbered government workers stretching back as far as you’d care to look. For the first ten years after that initial reversal the gap only opened slowly, but not because we were losing jobs. The economy was booming for the next decade. Sadly, government was growing even faster. And then after 9/11 things really went to hell in a handbasket. Now the government behemoth is an employment giant compared to manufacturing.
Why should we care? Because with very few exceptions in aerospace and a few other niche endeavors, the government doesn’t actually produce anything. It’s a necessary function in a democratic republic and you need people to keep it running, but it’s not really contributing anything to the general productivity of the nation. In fact, too much of government’s role is to actually retard productivity in the private sector courtesy of our endless chain of regulatory agencies.
But now government employment has left actual productive jobs in the dust. And the way things are going I wouldn’t expect that to change any time soon.