Richardson One of 15 Government-Heavy (and Recession-Resistant) Cities

07/25/2009

15 Government-Heavy (and Recession-Resistant) Cities
In some areas of the country, government jobs are keeping employment up

It's been said that if there's one type of job that's recession proof, it's a government job. After all, spending by federal and state governments tends to go up in recessions, and that's been especially true with President Obama's stimulus response. But it's not exactly true that government jobs are recession proof. Government employment growth has slowed to a trickle: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, government employment has added an average of about 5,000 workers a month over the past year. In June, the government sector actually lost 52,000 jobs.

 
But if government jobs aren't exactly recession proof, they're certainly recession-resistant—especially if you compare the government sector to other sectors of the economy. Those other industries are losing massive numbers of jobs total nonfarm employment has fallen an average of 448,000 workers a month since June of 2008. The only industry that's lost fewer jobs than government is one that's heavily reliant on government: education and health services, which has added 35,230 over the same period. Cities that have lots of government workers have proven recession-resistant. A June report from the Brookings Institution examined how the country's metropolitan areas fared during the first three months of the year. Metro areas where government is one of the main employers shed fewer jobs than other metro areas. Average employment in these government-heavy areas has fallen only by 1.3% between the 4Q of 2007 and the 1Q of 2009, compared with 4% losses for metro areas where the major industries are arts and entertainment or agriculture. Only metro areas where mining is a dominant industry have lost fewer jobs (1% decrease).
 
But if you don't work for the government yourself, does any of this matter? Yes, because healthy employment in your city benefits you in other ways, even if you don't work in one of the healthy industries. "The jobs themselves spill over to the rest of the economy," says Alan Berube, senior fellow at Brookings and one of the authors of the report. The still-employed government workers have more money to spend on restaurants, retail, and other parts of the local economy. There are other industries that thrive on money from the government. And more government activity means more money for the nonprofit, health, and education sectors. "These are the sectors least damaged by the recession," says Joel Kotkin, an urban scholar at Chapman University.
 
As a result, not all of the cities with a large public-sector presence are state capitals, as one might
assume. For example, in California, "the research institutions and the educational institutions are in San Francisco, not in Sacramento," says Kotkin. Additionally, employment in state and local governments is no sure thing as cash-strapped states cut budgets. The cities that stand out in terms of the number of government jobs tend to be heavy not in state government jobs but in more stable jobs like those at state universities. Berube calls state universities "another industry that has not shed jobs as a result of the recession."
 
Not everyone thinks the healthiness of government jobs is good news. If government is providing more opportunities, there is a concern of a "brain drain" of the best and brightest from the private sector into the public sector. Such a shift could be problematic because the private sector tends to create more jobs and wealth than the public sector overall. "There's an enormous danger in the diversion of creative power into government instead of elsewhere in the world," says Kotkin.
 
But even if it's not the best trend for the country's overall economic future, the hardiness of government employment means that cities with a large number of public-sector jobs will have the advantage of greater stability than other cities. U.S. News used data culled from Bureau of Labor Statistics and housing data on the number of government employees as well as estimated data on city populations to find the cities with the highest per-capita number of government employees.

Here are the top 15 of those cities (which have a population of 100,000 or greater).
Government employees per capita: 0.05
Bill Sproull, president of the Richardson Economic Development Partnership, says he doesn't think of this Dallas suburb as a government town. Rather, it's a hub for the telecommunications industry. "We have a larger daytime population than nighttime population," Sproull explains, because of the thousands who commute in to work at the tech companies. But local employees and residents are also attracted by the University of Texas at Dallas, which is actually located in Richardson. The university, with more than 14,000 students, is "a long-term gem in our backyard," Sproull says.
 
Cambridge, Mass.
Government employees per capita: 0.15
Cambridge is known for famous institutions of higher learning like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While private, these universities draw substantial public investment in the form of research dollars. Jobs come with that public-sector investment. In 2008, the federal government was the 9th-biggest employer in Cambridge. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, one-sixth of all jobs are in higher education.
 
Alexandria, Va.
Government employees per capita: 0.10
Alexandria is less than a half-hour commute from Washington, which makes it a major bedroom community for federal government employees. In all of Northern Virginia, there are 2.5 million people, a large portion of the entire Washington, DC metro area in which 226,600 people work in government jobs.
 
Washington
Government employees per capita: 0.08
As the ultimate American government town, Washington has weathered the recession better than almost any major city. The Washington metro area (which includes Alexandria and Arlington) saw its unemployment actually increased to 6.6% this year from May to June. But the Brookings report finds the Washington area to be the tenth-strongest for employment in the country, as the federal government expanded and created new positions. Washington also has a whole cottage industry of lobbyists and consultants who profit from the increased government activity. For example, Kotkin points out that Washington's hotel industry has not had the vacancies seen in other cities because hopeful business leaders and local politicians have flocked to the city in search of their piece of the pie.
 
Irvine, Calif.
Government employees per capita: 0.08
The biggest employer in Irvine, the 3rd-largest city in Southern California's Orange County, is the University of California-Irvine. Irvine's unemployment rate isn't good—its Orange County metro area had an unemployment rate of 9.2% in June 2009. But the California-wide rate was 11.6%.
 
Arlington, Va.
Government employees per capita: 0.07
Arlington was part of the District of Columbia until 1846, when Congress returned the land to Virginia. Arlington is still only one stop away from D.C. on the Washington Metro subway system. Arlington is also home to the Pentagon and its 23,000 employees.
 
Atlanta
Government employees per capita: 0.07
Atlanta has the corporate headquarters of well-known companies like Delta Airlines and Coca-
Cola, but the city's public sector is robust as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services) is based in Atlanta.
 
Government employees per capita: 0.07
Bellevue is a wealthy suburb of Seattle, and the Seattle/Bellevue metro area has one of the greatest concentrations of government employees in the country. Right across Lake Washington from Bellevue is the University of Washington, which employs over 30,000 people. According to the City of Bellevue Office of Economic Development, from 2000 to 2007, government jobs grew at an annual average rate of 2.68%, while manufacturing and retail fell by 3.72% and 1.74%, respectively.
 
Boston
Government employees
per capita: 0.06
Boston is not as much of a government town as its neighbor Cambridge, but with 6% of its population working in government, Boston still has one of the highest rates of public-sector employment in the country. The Boston metro area (which includes Cambridge) has fared better than most other metro areas. The Brookings report ranked it as the 22nd-strongest area for employment out of 100 metro areas.
 
Pasadena, Calif.
Government employees per capita: 0.06
In some ways, this is the West Coast Cambridge. The California Institute of Technology is one of Pasadena's biggest employers. Caltech creates an intellectual climate and provides a base of highly skilled graduates that draw public research employers to the city. For example, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is located in Pasadena.
 
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Government employees per capita: 0.06
The planned city of Thousand Oaks is one of the largest cities in Ventura County, in the northwest corner of the Los Angeles metro area. This county has the 13th-highest per-capita income in California out of 58 counties, according to census data. While much of this wealth comes from local biotech companies like Amgen Inc. in Thousand Oaks, the Navy is a big local employer. The Naval Air Warfare Center and the Naval Construction Battalion Center each employ more than 5,000 people in Ventura County.
 
Tampa
Government employees per capita: 0.05
Tampa shows up on the list because, as home to MacDill Air Force Base, it is one of the biggest military towns in the country. Despite this steady employment, Tampa has the misfortune of being in the state that was arguably hit hardest by the housing collapse. "Government employment alone cannot keep metro areas afloat" if bigger problems arise, says Berube.
 
Seattle
Government employees per capita: 0.05
One of the biggest employers in the Seattle metro area is the Department of Defense. The area is home to McChord Air Force Base, Fort Lewis, and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. While unemployment in Seattle rose by 4.7% points from June 2008 to June 2009, it's doing better than regional neighbor Portland, Ore., where unemployment rose by 6.3%.
 
San Francisco
Government employees per capita: 0.05
While Sacramento is California's capital, San Francisco is arguably as important of a government town. Of the San Francisco Bay Area's 4.2 million residents, 227,531 are employed by the state government of California, according to the San Francisco Center for Economic Development. The second-biggest employer is the University of California-San Francisco, with 18,000 employees. Unemployment in the area stood at 10.3% in May, below the state average of 11.6%.
 
Orlando
Government employees per capita: 0.05
Orlando is a major research center for the military. It is the focal point for the development of training simulation technology. Like Tampa, Orlando is a victim of the bad Floridian economy. Employment in Orlando recently has actually been doing worse than average for the state, with a 5.1% increase in unemployment from June 2008 to June 2009. But that's still a lot better than average across the nation.

 
By Matthew Bandyk
Posted July 29, 2009
  
connect with us