Federal Government Employment Rose Faster Than Private Sector
NY Times
Published: February 9, 2008

IT is not exactly a distinction that he had in mind, but seven years into his presidency, George W. Bush is in line to be the first president since World War II to preside over an economy in which federal government employment rose more rapidly than employment in the private sector.

That is not because federal government jobs have risen at an unusually rapid rate over the last seven years — although the increase did reverse a substantial decline under Mr. Bush's most recent predecessor, Bill Clinton.

Instead, it is because job gains in the private sector were modest even after the economy recovered from the 2001 recession. In 2005, private sector employment rose 2 percent, the best annual growth rate during the Bush administration, but the rate fell to 1.4 percent in 2006 and 0.7 percent in 2007. In contrast, in six of the eight Clinton years growth was above 2 percent.

With the economy clearly slowing as the final year of Mr. Bush's presidency begins, it is possible that the overall rate of growth in private sector employment for his presidency, now at 0.53 percent per year, could fall below the 0.41 percent rate of his father's administration, which had been the lowest of any president since World War II.

The administration of Dwight Eisenhower currently ranks next to last in that regard, with a 0.50 percent annual rate of growth. It was damaged by a 1.8 percent decline in jobs in 1960, his final year in office, when a recession was one factor in his party's loss of the White House.

Under the current president, federal job growth has averaged 0.73 percent per year, but employment rolls at state and local governments have grown even more rapidly, at rates of 0.88 percent for state governments and 1.21 percent for local governments. The federal jobs figure excludes the Postal Service, which is now treated as more of a commercial enterprise. It has shed jobs during the Bush administration.

In the private sector, health care jobs have risen rapidly during the Bush administration, and now account for 9.5 percent of all jobs in the country, up from 8.3 percent when Mr. Bush took office. Within health care, the fastest growth of any sector was in home health care, where the number of jobs rose 49 percent over the seven-year period, an average of 5.8 percent a year.

Other areas with strong job growth have included oil and gas extraction and mining, reflecting rising prices for oil and many minerals.

One of the weakest sectors was manufacturing. The number of such jobs peaked in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president, and fell in every administration since, with the exception of a small gain in the Clinton years. The decline in the current administration, at a rate of 3.1 percent a year, is the steepest yet seen.

When President Bush took office, nearly 13 percent of American jobs were in manufacturing. In November, that figure fell below 10 percent for the first time ever, and at last measure was 9.95 percent.

The slow job growth in this decade has, at least temporarily, reversed one long-term trend, that of more and more women entering the workplace.

The proportion of women over the age of 20 who had jobs rose from under a third in the mid-1950s to a peak of 58.9 percent in April 1990. The latest figure, of 58.3 percent, is three-tenths of a percentage point lower than when President Bush took office. If it does not rise this year, he will be the second postwar president whose administration registered a decline in that statistic; his father was the first.

E-mail: norris@nytimes.com

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