Culture & the Family

Oklahoma Government Jobs Up, Private Jobs Down

September 1, 2009

Brandon Dutcher

While Oklahoma's private sector has shed more than 36,000 jobs during this recession, one sector of the state economy has shown itself to be remarkably recession-proof: government. Oklahoma's state and local governments have added 8,600 jobs since the recession began.

Looking at employment data released August 21 by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, OCPA economists Scott Moody and Wendy Warcholik found that private-sector employment in Oklahoma dropped by 2.9 percent (to 1.23 million workers from 1.266 million workers) between January 2008 and July 2009.

Comparative Employment Growth

In contrast, state government employment grew by 2.3 percent (to 85,400 workers from 83,500 workers) while Oklahoma's local government employment grew by 3.4 percent (to 201,800 workers from 195,100 workers).

None of which really comes as much of a surprise. After all, from July 2000 to July 2009 private-sector employment in the state rose by a mere 2.8 percent. During that time, state government employment rose by 9.6 percent and local government employment rose by a staggering 27.1 percent.

"Our previous research has shown that Oklahoma already had the fifth-highest government employment to private-sector employment ratio in the country in 2007-and that was before the current recession even started," Moody says. "These new data suggest the ratio will significantly worsen in 2008 and beyond. Oklahoma's taxpayers are already shouldering $2.8 billion in excessive government employment costs. The last thing taxpayers need during a recession is for this amount to go up."

"For too long," he says, "growth in state and local government employment has crowded out growth in private-sector employment. Ultimately, this is a dead-end street since it is the private sector that foots the bill for government employees."

If the legislature convenes in a special session, it is imperative that they don't raise taxes and fees like they did last session-putting a tax on wire transfers, for example, and increasing the fee for tardy license-tag renewals.

Nor should they tap the Rainy Day Fund. That would basically be telling Oklahoma's recession-battered taxpayers: "We know we're forcing you to carry too much bureaucratic overhead, but we don't want to have to make any hard choices."