After Dozens of Rounds of Layoffs, More State Employees Than Before

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Even after dozens of rounds of layoffs and promises of cutbacks state employment continued to be a growth industry in Massachusetts through the recession, according to analysis of data from the Comptroller of the Commonwealth and from the Human Resources Division. Several state departments, after a dozen or more layoffs, actually ended up with an increased headcount.

Under the threat of massive budget shortfalls in 2008, Governor Deval Patrick promised a slashed budget and “painful” reductions in state staffing numbers. In total, he said 1,000 jobs would be eliminated, spanning a variety of services and departments.

While the governor admitted the cost would have tangible impacts on everything from RMV wait times to services for the disabled and deaf, the proposed cost cutting measures were widely praised as necessary: Revised projections predicted more than a billion dollars in reduced revenue in 2008 alone, and the private sector has suffered in even greater measure. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, 190,895 workers were laid off nationally in mass layoffs.

But despite the promised cutbacks and restraint, local and state government in Massachusetts have, except for brief dips, expanded their full time equivalent employees.

Between 2006 and 2010, the number of full-time equivalent state employees has risen 4.96 percent, according to numbers released by the Comptroller of the Commonwealth. This was while the number of local government full-time equivalent employees grew 2.6 percent between 2006 and 2009, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau (2009 is the most recent data released by the Bureau).

Full Time Equivalent State Government Employees

Full-Time Equivilent Employees by Year

Full Time Equivalent Local Government Employees


So how and why did the number of public employees rise, even as the private sector lost over 140,000 jobs since 2001? Particularly when the governor promised to cut 1,000 jobs and reap $1 billion in savings back in 2008? Analysis of state employment data obtained exclusively by the Pioneer Institute through a Freedom of Information request shows that, in agency after agency, departments that underwent rounds of layoffs actually had steady or even increased employment.

For example, the Department of Workforce Development underwent 13 rounds of layoffs totaling 83 employees being let go. But between the first and last rounds of layoffs, in 2006 and 2010 respectively, the department actually grew by 70 to 1370 employees. The Executive Office of Environmental Affairs also went through 13 rounds of layoffs, growing 6 employees in the process.

The most dramatic example was the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which underwent 17 rounds of layoffs but increased its headcount by 250 people.

The increasing headcounts over time are charted on top of the chart, while the layoff totals supplied by the state are graphed below. Note the two charts are on different scales but graphed on the same time axis.

The state’s layoff arithmetic could have a number of causes: Title changes, re-hirings, federal grant work, restructuring. The New England Center for Investigative Reporting recently took a look at how the Department of Transportation’s promise to trim 300 employees turned into a 31 employee reduction, finding officials justified the discrepency by stating that 72 employees were funded by federal stimulus dollars while another 313 employees were “temporary” positions, slated to last eight years.

With the provided data, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how other departments grew while undergoing layoffs, but the Department of Transportation story is a good case study for understanding the accounting acrobatics that departments can go through. And as a comparison of the layoff totals provided by the state show, a fair amount of acrobatics were highly likely.

Full-Time Equivalent Employees by Year

The fact of the matter is that, the state’s employment grew 1.45 percent between 2008 and 2010 even while, as Pioneer’s Jim Stergios aptly noted, the unemployment curve in the state has been a tidal wave hit that deeply reduced state revenues and had lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agreeing major cuts, however painful, were needed.

Note: An earlier version of this post misstated local government employment growth. It has been corrected.