NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Should We Hire Even More Teachers, Cops and Firemen?

July 10, 2012

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney critiqued his presidential sparring partner by stating: "[Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers....It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people." This caused a significant blowback in media coverage, but the assertion airs an important question: could the United States do with fewer of these employees, asks Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of and ReasonTV.

With regard to teachers, it seems that state and local governments most certainly could cut some funding from payrolls without facing significant declines in the quality of education.

  • In 2008 (the last year for which the federal government lists actual data), there were 15.3 pupils per teacher in public K-12 schools.
  • That is the lowest recorded number: in 1998 the number was 16.4 and in 1978 it was 19.3.
  • Over this same time period, the amount of money per student has increased tremendously and scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have stayed flat at best.
  • This suggests that hiring more teachers does little to improve education.

A similar argument could be made for policemen: industry analysis suggests that government could save money by hiring fewer police while facing little increase in crime.

  • In 1992, there were 332 full-time law enforcement employees per 100,000 residents.
  • By 2008, that number had jumped to 373 full-timers.
  • Over that same period, crime decreased significantly, suggesting that the increase in police officers had a dampening impact on crime.
  • However, most experts attribute that decrease in crime to other factors, such as an aging population and price decreases for often-stolen items.
  • Again, this suggests that governments at all levels could do with less funding for police.

Finally, though the case of firefighters has weaker evidence, it still seems that government could shed some jobs off of its payrolls.

  • In 1986, there were a total of 4.35 volunteer and career firefighters per 1,000 Americans, and that number dropped to 3.57 firefighters per 1,000 people in 2010.
  • Between 2003 and 2010, the number of fires covered by firefighters fell from 1.6 million to 1.33 million.
  • Despite having fewer people, fire departments nationwide were required to put out fewer fires, suggesting that the need for their services has decreased.

Source: Nick Gillespie, "Should We Hire Even More Teachers, Cops, and Firemen?" Reason Magazine, June 22, 2012.

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