Government payroll across U.S. Presidencies

Monday, January 18, 2010

The term of Brazil's President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, concludes this year. During President Lula's tenure, Brazil enjoyed stable monetary policy and strong economic growth. However, President Lula is likewise known for growing the size of Brazil's government, for example, by adding over 300k government jobs. This translates into a 4.8% increase in the government payroll when adjusted for working-age population growth.

This is a criticism of Lula's administration - growing the size of the government (here, as measured by its payroll), and stifling some prospects for long-run economic growth.

Accordingly, let's see how previous U.S. Presidents grew the U.S. government payroll: is there a party trend? The general idea is, that the Democratic Party seeks a larger role for government as a mechanism to increase economic welfare than does the Republican Party (generally). A priori, I expect to see more robust government payroll growth during Democratic administrations.

The chart illustrates the level change in the total government payroll by Presidency since 1953 (the data are not seasonally adjusted and reported here). There is no noticeable correlation between party and the government payroll, although LBJ and Clinton, Democrats, did grow government jobs by the widest margin, 2.6m and 2.3m, respectively.

State and local government jobs are included in the measure of "government", while a better link to party affiliation is the federal payroll. Furthermore, the population - and thus total payroll - grew as well. So, in focusing solely on the federal payroll in percentage gains (in order to remove effects of term length), and adjusting for population growth, there appears to be a stronger correlation between the current administration's party affiliation and government jobs growth.

The top 3 federal job-creators were LBJ, JFK, and Obama, Democrats, while 4 out of the top 5 top federal job-slashers were Nixon, Bush, Bush, and Ford, Republicans. Interestingly, Clinton ranks first in cutting the federal payroll; it fell by almost 10% when the population grew by roughly the same amount - in adjusted terms, that's -18% fewer federal jobs.

This analysis, of course, does not account for recessions, budgets, or external factors that would differentiate payroll growth across periods. However, there is a correlation, as in Brazil, between party affiliation and the growth of the federal payroll.

Rebecca Wilder


janie January 18, 2010 at 4:18 PM  

Are the charts adjusted for the time in office? What one can accomplish in 1yr, 4yrs., 8yrs will affect the growth, too.

Rebecca Wilder January 18, 2010 at 4:59 PM  

Hi Aunt Jane!

The first chart is not. However, the second chart is since it is represented as a %-change during the term.

Thanks for the thank you note from Christmas! Mom is coming in a couple of weeks - will send you the pics from Christmas.

Best, Rebecca

janie January 18, 2010 at 6:48 PM  

Thanks for the clarification! I'm a little slow on the uptake at times.

Have a great visit - they will need the relaxation! aj
ps: pictures are always good!!

James Salsman January 18, 2010 at 9:01 PM  

I love these graphs.

James January 18, 2010 at 11:43 PM  

That second graph proves Michael Moore right: "Bill Clinton is perhaps the best Republican president we've had since Abraham Lincoln."

Rebecca Wilder January 19, 2010 at 8:15 AM  

Hi James, thanks for making me chuckle this Tuesday morning...


Anonymous January 19, 2010 at 12:00 PM  

Does this include contract employment?

Since the late 1970s there has been a significant shift in government employment in favor of contract employment where the DoD especially, but others as well contract private firms to perform the service that previously had been done by government employees.

Second, does this count military personnel as government employees, or is this just civilian employment.

I suspect that this data may not be completely comparing apples to apples.


Rebecca Wilder January 19, 2010 at 2:44 PM  

Hi Spencer,

How are you? I suspect that if you are on the government's payroll - contractor or full-time employee - you are counted in the measure of "federal jobs".

Second, military employment is not included, so the numbers - both in and out of war periods - represent civilian employment. However, there is an obvious positive correlation among civilian federal employment growth and war periods.


Air January 19, 2010 at 5:05 PM  

>>>>Interestingly, Clinton ranks first in cutting the federal payroll; it fell by almost 10% when the population grew by roughly the same amount - in adjusted terms, that's -18% fewer federal jobs.<<<<

I suppose the 8-combat divisions that Clinton/Gore cut as part of their peace dividend would be useful right about now. -Old Joe

janie January 20, 2010 at 8:43 AM  

Add a few ships to that, too, Air. Can't believe how stretched the USN is and getting worse.

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