Fewer New Jerseyans are working in the public sector than at the start of the decade, as all levels of government slashed jobs in the aftermath of the recession.
State government led the charge, shedding about 10,000 jobs since Gov. Chris Christie took office, according to Joseph Perone, a spokesman for the state Treasury. Facing a $2 billion budget deficit, Christie sought to make government smaller and more efficient. New Jersey had 64,760 workers on the payroll in June.
“Christie was part of it, but another part was just the severity of the Great Recession,” said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.
He pointed out that there have also been public-worker layoffs and positions that have gone unfilled in county courthouses, town halls, and schools. And, according to reports, the federal government’s payroll is roughly 80,000 smaller nationwide than when President Barack Obama took office.
“The crisis has passed, but government has not really recovered,” Hughes said. “Hiring has been cautious.”
He said government jobs have been “trending upward very slightly” since 2012. But major growth may be a while away due to other factors. Hughes noted that the state-mandated property tax cap “limits the ability of local government to hire more workers.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey, 13.4 percent of New Jersey’s civilian workforce age 16 and older had government jobs in 2014. That’s down from 15 percent in 2010. That represents roughly 36,000 jobs, or almost 6 percent of government workers, and is considered statistically significant. The total state civilian workforce was almost 4.4 million in 2014, with about 586,000 public workers. Some 622,000 New Jerseyans held government jobs in 2010, the census data shows.
While U.S. Department of Labor data does not match that of the Census, it shows the same trend. Hughes said the DOL shows the percentage of government workers in New Jersey dropping from 16.7 percent in 2010 to 15.6 percent for a net loss of 21,400 government jobs, or 3.3 percent.
According to the census data, virtually all of the shift away from government jobs has been to the private sector — 81.7 percent of workers in the state were employed by businesses last year. Less than 5 percent were self-employed, according to the data.
There are wide variations in the public-worker population across the counties. Burlington County, just south of the state capital of Trenton, had the highest proportion of government workers — almost 19 percent of the workforce. The three southernmost counties — Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland — had more than 18 percent of people working in government. Fewer than 1 in 10 workers in Somerset and Hudson counties held public jobs.
Hughes said it makes sense that the proportion of public jobs would be higher in South Jersey because their government services need at least minimal staffing levels, like those elsewhere in the state, and they have fewer private-sector employers than in north and Central Jersey.
Of New Jersey’s largest municipalities, Hamilton Township, Trenton’s next-door neighbor, had the highest proportion of public workers — more than 2 in 10. The rate in the capital itself, though, was 13.7 percent of the workforce with government jobs. The lowest rate among large municipalities was in Lakewood, where 5.5 percent of workers held public jobs.