0.6% Decrease in Federal Employment in 2017

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By on January 17, 2018 in Human Resources with 0 Comments

Individual cutout letters spelling 'trends 2017' on a yellow desk background surrounded by glasses, paintbrushes, pencils and ruler

Despite initial fears that the Trump presidency would immediately cause large reductions in Federal employment, and despite the administration’s failure to fill many higher-level jobs, 2017 saw only a small net reduction in the number of Federal employees.

After the first year of the Trump presidency, employment in the Federal sector stood at 2.819 million in December 2017, a loss of 18,000 jobs (-0.6%) over the year, according to preliminary information released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job losses in 2017 would have been larger if not for the Department of Defense, which added 3,300 civilians to its payroll. At the end of 2017, DoD employed 532,900 civilian workers or about 19% of the entire Federal workforce.

About half of the net job loss can be attributed to the U.S. Postal Service, which acts as an independent agency within the Federal government. USPS reported a loss of 9,400 jobs in 2017, its first year of net employment losses after three years of additions.

Excluding USPS from the overall numbers, the Federal government employed 2.190 million workers at the end of 2017, a decline of 9,000 (-0.4%) from 2016. In 2010, the Federal government employed 2.215 million workers, excluding USPS.

The loss of 9,000 jobs in 2017 represented the first year that Federal employment had dropped since 2013. Between 2014 and 2016, the Federal government (excluding USPS) grew by nearly 55,000 employees.

Line chart showing numbers of federal employees minus USPS from 1946 to 2017

Federal civilian employment, except USPS, 1946-2017

Private industry increases

Compared to the Federal government, private sector employment has shown continued growth since the last recession, rising by 2.132 million in 2017. Almost 85% of nonfarm workers in the U.S. were employed by private industry at the end of 2017.

As a result of gains in the private sector, Federal employment, excluding the U.S. Postal Service, as a percentage of private sector employment slipped to 1.74%, its lowest level since 2007 when it stood at 1.68%. Federal employment has remained less than 2.5% of private industry employment since 1993.

State and local government employment

The Federal government was not the only government sector to have lost employment over the year.

State governments in the U. S. decreased by 13,000 employees (-0.4%) in 2017, which was the second consecutive year of losses. Overall, state governments employed 5.177 million people in 2017.

At the same time, local governments in the U.S. continued to grow, adding 87,000 employees, of which 47,000 of those workers were employed by local public education. In 2017, local governments employed 14.696 million workers. Local government employment now stands at its highest level since 2009.

© 2019 Michael Wald. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Michael Wald.

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About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.

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