The public sector is under attack on many fronts, as conservative groups and some of the newly elected lawmakers argue for shrinking government and reducing public sector spending. An argument that has recently caught on among proponents of cuts to the public sector is that growth in government employment has been crowding out manufacturing jobs.
Conservative groups have recently latched onto one particular factoid to support their contention that public sector employment is harming the private sector. They note that late last year, “for the first time in state history,” the number of government jobs surpassed the number of manufacturing jobs in our state. The Wisconsin Budget Project just completed an updated analysis of employment in Wisconsin and issued a press statement today stating that “raising alarms about Wisconsin’s ratio of manufacturing jobs to government jobs represents a complete misreading of the data.”
The Budget Project analysis reveals the following:
• Wisconsin still has the nation’s highest ratio of manufacturing jobs to government jobs. (WI is virtually tied in that regard with Indiana, but no other state comes close.)
• Wisconsin’s ratio of manufacturing to government jobs is nearly double that of the nation as a whole.
• That ratio declined by 34 percent in Wisconsin over the last 20 years, but fell much faster nationally, 46 percent.
• The number of state and local government employees per capita in Wisconsin has declined over the past decade (while increasing slightly nationally).
• Only 12 other states have a leaner public sector – measured in terms of state and local employees relative to the size of the state population.
Whether the ratio of manufacturing jobs to government jobs is an important indicator of a state’s economic well-being is debatable, but if it is, then we should be celebrating Wisconsin’s status, not lamenting it as some observers have been doing in recent months.