New York Has Nation’s Second-Highest Public Employee Payroll, Study Finds

Published December 1, 2004

New York’s state and local governments pay public employees more than any state except California, and the number of government workers compared to population is among the highest in the country, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau numbers released by The Public Policy Institute of New York State.

The analysis, released in October, found the average annual pay for government workers in New York was $51,445 in 2003, the second-highest annual pay in the nation (behind only California, with its average annual pay of $52,129) and 26 percent above the national average of $40,717.

Bigger Government Overall

“Obviously, government overall in New York is bigger than in most other places,” said Robert B. Ward, director of research at the institute.

“In terms of employment, we, unlike most states, have a large social services bureaucracy at the state and local levels,” said Ward. “Our schools tend to have higher staffing ratios than in most states, meaning fewer students per teacher. Our prisons have much higher staffing ratios than the national average.

“There’s no doubt that New York voters on average are more liberal than nationwide, so that would be shown in things like the number of government workers. Having said that, it’s also true that the political class in New York gets away with going beyond the wishes of the voters,” Ward said. “The disparity between what voters would approve and what the political class approves is bigger than in other states.”

Ward said New York’s public employee unions are exceptionally strong, and they pressure state and local governments to expand the public sector, he observed, which makes the unions even stronger as their numbers grow.

State and Local

Local Government Payrolls Also High

New York’s closest competitors in public employee payroll include New Jersey ($50,228), Massachusetts ($45,644), Connecticut ($48,444), Michigan ($42,806), and Pennsylvania ($41,429), the analysis found.

New York had 62 full-time equivalent state and local government workers for every 1,000 residents in 2003, 14 percent above the national average.

Local government employment in New York is especially out of line with that of other areas. School districts, municipalities, and other local government entities employed an average of 49 workers per 1,000 residents in 2003. That figure was 23 percent above the national average, according to the report.

State government employment was 13 per 1,000 residents, while the national average was 14.5 per 1,000 residents.

In August 2004, a Public Policy Institute of New York State report showed upstate New York taxpayers paid as much as $6 billion more in state and local taxes than they would in an average state, partly because of the state’s far-above-average local government payrolls.

The report, How High is the Upstate Tax Burden and Why? found upstate local governments have some 93,500 more employees than they would have if they merely matched the national average ratio of local government workers to population. “This excess of more than 25 percent alone costs upstate taxpayers more than $4 billion extra a year,” the report noted.

Matthew Maguire ([email protected]) is director of communications at The Public Policy Institute of New York State.