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Katie Mulvaney
By Katie Mulvaney March 8, 2015

Gov. Gina Raimondo says R.I. is ‘well below average’ in number of public employees

Governor Raimondo sounded an alarm about state spending and looming budget deficits at a news conference last month.

"Out of whack … Alarming … Scary," she said.

Her presentation included facts and figures about public employees and their salaries.

"Contrary to popular belief, we actually don’t have that many public employees…We are well below average in the number of public employees," she said.

When we called Raimondo’s office, Marie Aberger, the governor’s spokeswoman, told us that Raimondo was referring to all federal, state and municipal employees, including educators, when she said "public employees."

The governor’s office forwarded a chart to us that was compiled using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information from November 2013. It showed that Rhode Island had the lowest percentage of government employees in New England.

According to the chart, a total of 59,800, or 11.6 percent, of the state’s 514,100 jobs are in the public sector. New Hampshire was second lowest, with 12.5 percent, followed by Massachusetts (13.1 percent), Connecticut (13.3 percent), Maine (15 percent) and Vermont (16.3 percent).  

But those are just the New England numbers. Where does Rhode Island rank nationally in percentage of public employees?

We got those figures when we reached out to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. Spokesman Michael J. Healey provided us with calculations from its labor market information division.

Donna Murray, assistant director of the division, compared the number of government jobs -- including federal workers and educators -- to the number of non-farm jobs in every state and determined what percentage the public-sector jobs made up.

Those calculations indicated that as of December 2014, the state had a total of 59,700 government jobs, which accounted for 12.5 percent of the state’s 478,900 total positions. Of the state’s public sector jobs, 10,500 are federal, Murray said.

This ties Rhode Island with Nevada as the states with the second lowest percentage of public employees in the nation. Pennsylvania was the sole state with a lower percentage, at 12.3 percent.

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By contrast, Wyoming had the highest percentage of public employees at 24.2 percent.

Nationally, government jobs make up an average of 15.9 percent of total non-farm jobs, according to the department’s calculations.

We wondered how Rhode Island compares when federal jobs are excluded, and only state and local workers are counted, since those are the jobs that impact state and municipal budgets.

We contacted Governing, a non-partisan magazine and website that tracks politics, policy and management for state and local government leaders. It published its own analysis, entitled "States With Most Government Employees: Per Capita Rates By Job Type". (The governor’s office also referred us to this analysis.) The Governing analysis was published last March, using 2012 numbers.

Mike Maciag, the data editor at Governing, agreed to run more current numbers for us to determine how Rhode Island’s rate of state and local public employees compares with rates of other states and the national average.

Maciag used 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll for his calculations.

According to the analysis, Rhode Island had 458 state and local employees -- including teachers -- per 10,000 residents, he said. This placed the Ocean State as the state with the seventh-lowest number of public employees in the country.

Wyoming had the most public employees per 10,000 -- 866. Nevada had the least -- 368 . The national average was 538.

For the record, according to Healey, Rhode Island had a total of 16,100 state employees as of December 2014. That includes 10,805 in state government, 4,612 in higher education, and 683 in the judiciary.

Our ruling

Governor Raimondo said that Rhode Island was "well below average" in the number of public employees.

Information provided to us by the governor’s office and the state Department of Labor and Training support that claim, as does an analysis done by Governing,  the non-partisan magazine and website

We rate her claim True.

(If you have a claim you’d like PolitiFact Rhode Island to check, email us at [email protected]. And follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.)

Our Sources

The Providence Journal, Raimondo sounds the alarm over spending, calls budget 'scary', Feb. 20, 2015

Interviews and emails, Marie Aberger, spokeswoman Gina Raimondo, Feb. 26-March 5, 2015

Interviews and emails, Gary Steinberg, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Feb. 27-March 2, 2015

Interview and emails, Robert Bernstein, spokesman at the U.S. Census Bureau, March 2, 2015

U.S. Census Bureau, "State Government Employment and Payroll Data: March 2013," accessed March 2, 2015

U.S. Census Bureau, "Annual "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014,"  accessed March 2, 2015

Governing, The States and Localities,  "States With Most Government Employees: Per Capita Rates By Job Type,"  accessed March 2, 2015

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Economy at a Glance -- Rhode Island,"  accessed March 4, 2015

New York Times,  "Off the Charts: Big Government States,"  Sept. 27, 2013, accessed March 4, 2015

Interview, Stacey Flores, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 4, 2015

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment data, accessed March 4, 2014

Interview and emails, Michael J. Healey, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Training, March 3-5, 2015

Interview, Donna Murray, assistant director of Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training’s labor market information division, March 5, 2015

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Gov. Gina Raimondo says R.I. is ‘well below average’ in number of public employees

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