Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Big Wyoming: A Look at School Employee Data

I am going to get back to the Trump budget effects on Wyoming, but first I would like to respond to a question from a legislator about the disaggregation of government employment numbers. There are a couple of different ways to skin this cat; the preferred default approach is to use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is the most reliable source of employment data in the country (and probably the best in the world) and does a good job of reporting data for the states, the DC and the territories.

Unfortunately, as good and high quality as their data is, it is not entirely complete.
For example, they have plenty of data on compensation in private-sector jobs, and in government jobs at aggregate levels, but they do not have as detailed a compensation a database for individual sectors of government as they have for individual private industries.

For now, therefore, the disaggregation of government employment will focus on education. 

In 2016, Wyoming state and local governments had 31,100 employees in education, of which 24,900 were in local government. It is natural that most of them are employed by local governments, as that category includes school districts. 

Unfortunately, BLS data does not separate instructional from non-instructional staff. There are other databases for that purpose, which we will get back to in a later article. For now, let us note that in 2016, 51.3 percent of all local government employees worked in education, compared to 40.3 percent of state employees. 

All in all, in 2016, 48.7 percent of all state and local government employees in Wyoming worked in education. This share is by no means dramatic; here are examples of the same share from other states:

Alaska: 45.6 percent;
Utah: 57.4 percent;
Montana: 54.4 percent.

The point where Wyoming does stand out, though, is in the Government Employee Ratio (GER). Adjusted for education employees, the GER looks as follows for Alaska, Montana, Utah and Wyoming:*

Figure 1
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

In 2001, Wyoming had 141 government education employees per 1,000 private-sector employees. The same numbers for Montana and Utah were, respectively, 126 and 98. When Alaska entered the comparison in 2003, their education-specific GER was 136.

As Figure 1 shows, the education GER declined in Alaska and Montana, by 2016 reaching 120 in Alaska and 113 in Montana. For Utah, the education GER fluctuated during the Great Recession but was once again 98 in 2016.

Wyoming is the exception in this group, with an education GER of 149 in 2016. These numbers raise two questions:

1. Why do we have more government education employees per 1,000 private employees than any of these states? 
2. Why have Alaska and Montana been able to reduce their education GERs and we have not? 

The second question is particularly important for Alaska, given that their economy is comparatively similar to ours here in Wyoming. Have kids in Alaska suffered? Are school results plummeting in Alaska? 

The Montana numbers raise similar questions; what do Wyoming kids get that children in Montana suffer without?
*) Education-specific data is available only from 2001 for Utah and 2003 for Alaska. Other states, such as Wisconsin, only report local-government education employees. This partial data availability restricts interstate comparison.

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