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Government employment up in Utah, down elsewhere

Published August 23, 2012 9:55 pm

Public employees • Swelling school enrollment in state drove increase in hiring teachers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Most state and local governments nationally cut employees last year. But Utah saw increases that were among the country's highest — coming mostly from hiring more teachers to handle ever-growing enrollments.

"If you pull education out, you basically have no change in the employment levels of state and local governments" in Utah, said Mark Knold, chief economist for the state Department of Workforce Services.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday that in 2011, Utah had the second-highest increase in full-time equivalent employees among state governments, up 4.3 percent. That was behind only North Carolina's increase of 5.4 percent.

Among local governments — such as cities, counties and school districts — Utah ranked No. 4 nationally with an increase of 4.5 percent. That was behind Arkansas at 13.3 percent; Wyoming, 5.6 percent; and Maine, 5.3 percent.

In comparison nationally, employment by state and local governments was down an average of 1.4 percent.

Knold said K-12 school enrollment growth "is just an ongoing thing in this state" with the nation's highest birthrate. Also, an extra population wave has been hitting.

"You had the original baby boomers, who produced their own baby boom in the 1980s. Then in the 2000s, those people got married and had their own kids and are producing their own baby boom. That is rolling into the K-12 system," Knold said.

At the same time, higher education employment grew because, he said, "as the economy went bad, college enrollments went way up."

Knold said other types of government employment in Utah have remained flat — so governments "are serving a growing population with the same amount of employment. So they are finding ways to be efficient, using technology, et cetera. Education happens to be a little more labor intensive," he said.

Also helping Utah is that the economy here has been in better shape relative to other states.

"Other places have just had to gut their spending," said University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich. "Our budgets have been improving relative to other places."

The Census Bureau's 2011 Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll said Utah state government had 53,501 full-time equivalent employees. About half — 26,476 — worked in higher education. The next-highest segment of state-government employment was in corrections, which had 3,068 full-time equivalent workers.

Utah's local governments had 94,090 full-time equivalent employees — and 58,147 were in K-12 education. The next-largest segment for local governments was police, with 5,592.