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Local government headcount has shrunk: comptroller


The number of local government employees in the state outside of New York City has fallen more than in the rest of the country, a report from the state comptroller’s office found.

Between 2007 and 2022, the number of local government employees in New York, excluding those in the city, declined by nearly 8 percent, to 452,298 full-time workers from 491,102. Nationally, local governments saw a 2-percent decline on average during the same period, according to the report. Full-time employees represent 80 percent of the local government workforce.

The report from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office attributed the decrease to two major upheavals: the 2007-2009 Great Recession and the pandemic. While the number of full-time local government employees peaked at 509,000 in 2009, that number had fallen to 446,000 by 2018. 

“While this pattern was similar to the national trend, New York experienced more year-over-year volatility and a longer period of overall decline,” the comptroller’s office stated.

The number of workers started to rebound in 2019, reaching 459,000 one year later, but declined during the pandemic as local governments lost staff.

“We all rely on local government employees for essential services such as education, public safety, health care, and much more,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “But local governments were hard hit by two major events, most recently the pandemic, that have taken their toll on staffing levels. Local officials must continue to meet the difficult task of balancing their budgets while making certain they have the staff in place to ensure critical services are there for their residents.”

The number of employees working in school districts — the largest local employer in 2022, accounting for 60 percent of the total local workforce — decreased by 4.5 percent. During the 2020-2021 school year, about 330 school districts reduced staff through layoffs or furloughs, which the comptroller attributed to delays in state and federal coronavirus funding.

The number of employees in public hospitals and the welfare sector saw the sharpest decline, each losing about a quarter of their workforce. Much of those losses occurred before the pandemic, the report noted. The number of local government employees working in the welfare sector decreased from 23,190 to 17,471 while those working in public hospitals and health fields dropped from 21,741 to 16,381.

Local police departments also saw steep declines, with the number of employees shrinking by more than 16 percent. Police officers saw the smallest drop, at 12 percent, while civilian employees shrank by a substantial 32 percent. These decreases occurred even though police officers were the highest paid title in local government, earning an average annual salary

of $112,249.

Sharp decline in NYC workers too

Adjusting for inflation, corrections employees and public hospital workers saw the highest salary growth during the 15-year period — 21.8 and 7.3 percent, respectively — while higher education workers saw their salaries decline by 2.8 percent.

Last year, local employees working downstate (including in Westchester, Nassau and Putnam counties) earned an average annual salary of $91,119, significantly higher than upstate workers, who made $65,053. The disparity was partly explained by the higher cost of living in downstate areas. However, more local employees worked upstate, New York City excluded.

Although the city data was not included in the report, there has also been a sharp decline in city employees in recent years, with the number of full-time workers decreasing from 349,518 in Fiscal Year 2019, DCAS reported, to about 282,500 last year, according to the city-based Independent Budget Office. The city has struggled to fill 18,360 vacancies, although most departments are also now under a hiring freeze. 

DiNapoli said that although the number of local government employees is starting to rebound, “there remains a level of uncertainty as to what future workforce numbers will look like, especially as federal pandemic relief payments phase out.

“In order to provide quality services,” he continued, “local governments need to invest in attracting and retaining talented and diverse personnel to supply them.”


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