Government work declines in California, but is on the rise elsewhere

By Anthony York | Posted January 29, 2015


The word alone sparks images of deregulated Utopia or wasteland, depending on where you fall on the political spectrum. It is a one-word Californian Rorschach test, an elastic term that reveals a Californian’s personal and political beliefs.

Republicans in this state point to Texas as a model to be replicated. Democrats, meanwhile, view Texas as a barren, oil producing tax haven where polluters run wild.

To both camps, California is the anti-Texas.

As part of my ongoing look at the California economy, and my new love of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I’ve been studying how different sectors of the California economy have performed over the last decade. The goal is to get an accurate picture of the post-recession California economy to see how our job market is changing, and what it might mean for our future.

Earlier this week, I posted about how we’ve lost more than 260,000 manufacturing jobs over the last decade, while gaining about the same number in the leisure and hospitality industries.

Today, I’m looking at government.

Government is one of the economic sectors that has not recovered the jobs lost in the Great Recession. Below is a chart of government employment in California over the last decade.

On a lark, I decided to take a look at how Texas government employment compares over the same period.

The results were surprising.

With the trends moving in opposite directions, Texas now has a larger share of its workforce in government jobs than California. With a civilian workforce of just over 13 million, about 14.3% of all working Texans have government jobs.

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In California, with a civilian workforce of about 18.8 million people, just 12.6% is employed in government.

You can decide for yourself whether this trend is a good thing. There is a strong case to be made that the decline of the government sector in California is part of the overall decline of the state’s middle class. Government jobs often pay well and come with stable, defined-benefit pensions. They offer economic security for workers that may not be able to find the same level of compensation or retirement benefits in the private sector.

There is equally compelling evidence that government contains inefficiencies and, like other bureaucratic structures, has figurative fat that can and should be trimmed.

But the charts also are an important reminder that the myths and assumptions we make in politics sometimes just don’t match the facts. Too often, we hear regurgitated conventional wisdom that is not supported by the data.

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Anthony York
Anthony York has covered California politics for close to 20 years. Before launching the Grizzly Bear Project in 2015, he covered Gov. Jerry Brown's administration for the Los Angeles Times. He is the former editor of Capitol Weekly, a former Associate Editor of the California Journal and of, where he also served as the Web site's Washington D.C. correspondent. He tweets at @anthonyyork49

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