Big government? Not the case in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Democrats think it should do more. Republicans think it should do less.

But some people from both camps might be surprised to learn how big — or not — government in Pennsylvania actually is.

By one key metric — government jobs as a percentage of all civilian jobs — no other state has less government than Pennsylvania.

Get daily news, weather, breaking news and alerts straight to your inbox! Sign up for the abc27 newsletters here.

That’s the conclusion of the publication Econ Weekly, based on its analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It comes during a renewed push to move thousands of liquor store jobs from the public to the private sector.

“Pennsylvania is not known as a small-government state,” Jay Shabat, Econ Weekly’s publisher, acknowledged. And to be sure, by other metrics — tax rates, for example — Pennsylvania isn’t the smallest-government state.

But just 11.9 percent of all civilian jobs in Pennsylvania are government jobs at any level — federal, state or local — according to the ranking. That places Pennsylvania fractionally behind Nevada in last place (or perhaps first place, depending on one’s perspective about the optimal size of government). The percentage-based government workforces in Alaska and Wyoming, No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, are nearly twice as big. (The full ranking of all 50 states is below.)


“It’s a state that has a very large percentage of its jobs in education and health care,” Shabat said. “Sometimes we call those ‘eds and meds.’”

Some “eds and meds” jobs — in public education or at a VA hospital, say — are government jobs. But many aren’t. Think of a large private university, like the University of Pennsylvania.

Another example: “In York [county], the private-sector, nonprofit hospital [WellSpan York] is the largest employer,” Shabat noted. “And that’s, you know — that’s thousands of employees.” (State government is, sure enough, the biggest employer in Dauphin county.)

Pennsylvania also has a giant city (Philadelphia) and a large one (Pittsburgh).

“Large cities do tend to have very large private-sector economies, so a lot of non-government jobs,” Shabat said.

Shabat said government services also tend to be delivered more efficiently in states with relatively dense populations, like Pennsylvania, than in more sparsely-populated ones.

“A postal employee in Philadelphia is probably going to be delivering mail to more houses than a postal employee in Wyoming,” he said, where the carrier might have to travel a long distance between deliveries.

And even though these figures don’t include active-duty military personnel, the armed forces — where they have a large presence — support large numbers of civilian jobs.

Pennsylvania is “not like, for example, Hawaii, where you have very large military bases that account for a big chunk of the economy,” Shabat said. Or “just imagine a state like Virginia, where military employment ranks very high because you have the Pentagon. You have the largest naval base in the world down in the Norfolk area, and there’s nothing quite like that in Pennsylvania.”

Here are the 50 U.S. states, ranked by percentage of all civilian jobs that are government jobs:

Rank State % of all civilian jobs that are government jobs
1 Alaska 24.1%
2 Wyoming 23.3%
3 West Virginia 21.3%
4 New Mexico 21.0%
5 Oklahoma 20.9%
6 Mississippi 20.3%
7 Hawaii 20.2%
8 North Dakota 19.1%
9 Maryland 19.0%
10 Alabama 18.8%
11 Montana 18.2%
12 South Dakota 18.0%
13 Virginia 17.9%
14 Kansas 17.8%
15 Vermont 17.4%
16 South Carolina 17.1%
17 Nebraska 16.6%
18 Louisiana 16.6%
19 Iowa 16.5%
20 Washington 16.2%
21 Idaho 16.2%
22 Colorado 16.0%
23 Arkansas 15.8%
24 New York 15.8%
25 Kentucky 15.7%
26 Maine 15.6%
27 North Carolina 15.4%
28 Texas 15.2%
29 Utah 15.1%
30 Oregon 15.0%
31 Missouri 14.7%
32 Delaware 14.5%
33 California 14.5%
34 Georgia 14.5%
35 New Jersey 14.4%
36 Minnesota 14.1%
37 Ohio 13.9%
38 Connecticut 13.9%
39 Tennessee 13.9%
40 Michigan 13.8%
41 Arizona 13.5%
42 Illinois 13.3%
43 Rhode Island 13.3%
44 Indiana 13.2%
45 Wisconsin 13.2%
46 New Hampshire 12.8%
47 Massachusetts 12.4%
48 Florida 12.3%
49 Nevada 11.7%
50 Pennsylvania 11.7%
Source: Econ Weekly analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data