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State and Local Government

Industry Overview
State and local governments provide their constituents with vital services, such as transportation, public safety, health care, education, utilities, and courts. Excluding education and hospitals, State and local governments employ about 8.3 million workers, placing them among the largest employers in the economy. Seven out of 10 of these employees work for local governments, such as counties, cities, special districts, and towns. In addition, large numbers of State and local workers work in public education -- a major part of the educational services industry.

In addition to the 50 State governments, there are about 87,500 local governments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These included about 3,000 county governments; 19,400 municipal governments; 16,500 townships; 13,500 school districts; and 35,100 special districts. Illinois had the most local government units, with nearly 7,000; Hawaii had the fewest, with 19.

In many areas of the country, citizens are served by more than one local government unit. For example, most States have counties, which may contain various municipalities such as cities or towns, but which also often include unincorporated rural areas. Townships, which do not exist in some States, may or may not contain municipalities and often consist of suburban or rural areas. Supplementing these forms of local government, special district government bodies are independent, limited-purpose governmental units that usually perform a single function or activity. For example, fire districts and ambulatory services often are provided by a special district.

Working Environment 
Working conditions vary by occupation and, in some instances, by size and location of the state or local government. For example, chief executives in very small jurisdictions may work less than 20 hours a week; in larger jurisdictions, they often work more than 40 hours per week. Chief executives in large jurisdictions work full time year round, as do most county and city managers. Most state legislators work full time only when in session, usually for a few months a year, and work part time the rest of the year. Local elected officials in some small jurisdictions work part time.

Most professional, financial operations, and office and administrative support workers in State and local government work a standard 40-hour week in an office environment.

State and local governments, excluding education and hospitals, employed about 8.3 million people in 2008. Seven out of 10 of these workers were employed in local government.

Degree Paths into this Industry
State and local governments employ people in occupations found in nearly every industry in the economy, including chief executives, managers, engineers, computer specialists, social workers, and health technicians. Professional and related occupations accounted for 21 percent of employment; and management, business, and financial occupations constituted 12 percent.

Industry Forecast
Wage and salary employment in State and local government is projected to increase 8 percent during the 2008-18 period, slower than the 11 percent growth projected for all sectors of the economy combined.

Job growth will stem from the rising demand for services at the State and local levels, particularly demand for public safety and health services. Two factors are fueling the growth of these services: an increasing population and the assumption of responsibility by State and local governments for some services previously provided by the Federal Government. Despite the increased demand for the services of State and local governments, employment growth will continue to be dampened by budgetary constraints due to the rapidly increasing proportion of revenues devoted to the Medicaid program, and public resistance to tax increases. Outsourcing of government jobs to the private sector will also limit employment in State and local government. When economic times are good, many State and local governments increase spending on programs and employment.

Professional and service occupations accounted for over half of all jobs in State and local government. Most new jobs will stem from steady demand for community and social services, health services, and protective services, including law enforcement and fire fighting and prevention workers.

Employment of management, business, and financial occupations is projected to grow at about the same rate as overall employment in State and local government. Employment in office and administrative support occupations in State and local government is expected to remain close to current levels.

Although job prospects vary by State and region, overall prospects are expected to be favorable. In addition to job openings from employment growth, many opportunities will be created by workers who retire from the industry. Prospects with managerial experience will have better opportunities as a growing number of managers are expected to retire in the coming decade. Currently, some States and localities are being forced to reduce payrolls; however, as State and local budgets improve, new opportunities should arise. 

Related Degree Fields

Professional Associations/Resources

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.



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