A Geographic Perspective on Sequestration

There’s been some talk about sequestration in the U.S. Federal Government. While I don’t really care to wade into the debate too much I thought it would be nice to make a map about it. Having gone through the process of research and making a map I’ve learened two things, first, the American Fact Finder website isn’t really a “fact finder” but more of a arcane system of searching, sorting, and hoping you find what you’re looking for. It really is terrible, shame on you Census Bureau. This is an interesting development too, the Census Bureau’s International Program has a super easy online data access portal for other countries. But for the U.S., not so much. I wonder if this has more to do with making it easy for Americans to research other places and to make it a laborious chore for Americans (and foreigners) to conduct Census research. Considering that the Census is ultimately responsible for taxation, redistrict, and other state-functions, this is probably too far from the truth.

But I digress. The other thing I learned is that the Federal Government is simultaneously widespread and “limited.” By widespread, I mean that the Federal government has representation (defined by me as paid employees) in the 50 states plus District of Columbia. And by limited, I mean that the Federal government is smaller now (2009 is the latest I found) than in 2000. By the way, all of this data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the data, there were 2,766,000 (or so) Paid Civilian Employees in 2000. This number does not include the Military (obviously), several agencies associated with the U.S. intelligence community, and seasonal and “on-call” employees. Furthermore, that 2.7 million number also includes Federal employees abroad or not tied to a particular state, foreign service officers and so on. The population of the United States in 2000 was 281.4 million persons, thus the paid civilian government was less than 1% of the U.S. population in 2000. And that ratio has decreased. In 2009, there were 1,992,000 paid civilian employees. Of a U.S. population of 305.5 million, this part of the Federal Government is about 0.6% of the population. As it turns out, this portion of the Federal Government has been increasing since 2007, from 1.81 to 1.860 (2008) to 1.992 million persons in 2009.

However, Federal employees are distributed evenly in terms of geography, as the map below shows. The highest numbers (over 100,000 paid civilian employees in the entire state) are found in California (169,000), District of Columbia (157,000), Virginia (147,000), Texas (140,000), and Maryland (124,000). There are also several states with over 50,000 civilian employees. By the way, I chose these category breaks because they make the most sense: over 100,000 people, over 50,000 people, over 10,000 people. The lowest number of Federal employees is Delaware. But look closely at that map, notice how the largest concentrations of civilian employees also correspond to the states with the highest gross domestic products (GDP, one measure of economic strength). In fact of the Top 10 states for GDP (in 2010), only two (New Jersey and North Carolina) have less than 50,000 civilian employees. The rest have over 50,000 (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia). As we discovered in the beginning, Texas and California have over 100,000 Federal employees, they also happen to be the two largest economies in the country. Taking all of the economies with over 100,000 employees into consideration, they total 28% of the entire country’s GDP (4 billion of 14.6 billion dollars in 2010). We include economies of states with over 50,000 employees, over half (58%) of U.S. GDP is coming from states with over 50,000 Federal employees (8.4 billion of 14.6 billion dollars in 2010).

Paid Federal Employees, 2009 (via ME!)

Paid Federal Employees, 2009 (via ME!)

Of course, I can’t say that furloughs and sequestration will have an adverse affect on the U.S. economy. For one, its important to remember that the paid civilian workforce is less than 1% of the total population. By individual states, that population group is about 1% of each state’s population. Its only higher in Maryland (2.1%) and the District of Columbia (26.1%). So while it is likely that the economy of the District would suffer its relatively small anyway (35th in the country, larger than Mississippi, smaller than Arkansas). But considering also that it doesn’t have voting rights in Congress anyway, and its safe to say that Congress doesn’t really care if the District’s economy takes a tumble when paid civilian employees cut back on spending.

If sequester and furloughs do happen, however, it will be fascinating to watch the economic ramifications. Will Texas and California take a hit? Will it be bad enough to affect 8 of the 10 largest? Stay tuned!

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