How Low is too Low? Wisconsin’s Public Sector is the Leanest in Two Decades

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 11:04 AM by

The number of government workers in Wisconsin compared to the state’s population has dropped to its lowest level in at least 20 years, according to a new Wisconsin Budget Project analysis.

Public employees in Wisconsin fill many roles. They patrol country roads, drive city buses, put out fires, immunize babies, and repair roads. Most of all, they teach our children: Six out of 10 public employees in Wisconsin work in education, mostly in K-12 schools.

Public employees also work close to home. Nearly 3 out of 4 public employees in Wisconsin work at the local government level.

There are far fewer of these public employees than there used to be. The number of state and local government workers per Wisconsin resident has dropped 10% from its peak a decade ago. Now only eight states have a leaner public sector for the size of their population. For every 100 state and local government employees per capita in other states, Wisconsin has only 94 employees.

Number of Public Employees in WI Continues to Drop

Wisconsin needs enough public employees to have the kind of efficient, effective public sector that can improve the state’s economic competitiveness and the quality of life for Wisconsin families. If the number of public employees dips too low, Wisconsin won’t be able to sustain the excellent schools, safe communities, and solid transportation network that have helped build a broad-based prosperity in our state.

Depending on what’s in the budget that Governor Walker proposes next week, the number of public employees in Wisconsin could fall even further. State-imposed constraints on property taxes and reductions in state support for local governments have contributed to the decline of public employees in Wisconsin in recent years, and the Governor may propose measures that further put the squeeze on local governments.

Read the full analysis here: Wisconsin’s Public Sector is Leanest in Two Decades. The analysis is based on state and local government employment figures collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, which publishes public employment levels for March of each year. The Census Bureau recently released government employment figures for March 2013.

Tamarine Cornelius

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