NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Growing Federal Payroll

February 9, 2011

The federal government employs around 2 percent of the workforce, but that doesn't include contractors or grantees funded with taxpayer money, says Iain Murray, the vice president for strategy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) does not keep records of how many government contractors or grantees, so it is difficult to tell how many the government actually employs.  Nevertheless, Professor Paul Light of New York University was able to come up with some useful estimates by using the federal government's procurement database.

  • By 2005, the federal government employed 14.6 million people: 1.9 million civil servants, 770,000 postal workers, 1.44 million uniformed service personnel, 7.6 million contractors and 2.9 million grantees.
  • Since 1999, the government has grown by over 4.5 million employees.

Professor Light's figures are from 2006, but there can be little doubt that the size of the federal government has increased still further since.  When we add up the true size of the federal workforce -- civil servants, postal workers, military personnel, contractors, grantees and bailed-out businesses -- and add in state and local government employees -- civil servants, teachers, firefighters and police officers -- we reach the astonishing figure of nearly 40 million Americans employed in some way by government.  That means that about 17 percent of the American labor pool -- one in every six workers -- owes its living to the taxpayer, says Murray.

Source: Iain Murray, "The Government Payroll Is Longer than You Might Think," National Review Online, February 3, 2011.

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