In Union County, job counts in the local government industry started deteriorating long before the Great Recession materialized (Graph 1). The local government category includes cities and counties, public schools, tribal entities, and various special districts. Its employment peaked in Union County way back in 2002 and has been on a downward path ever since.
On a statewide basis, local government employment in 2011 was 4 percent higher than 10 years earlier. In Union County, local government employment in 2011 was 21 percent lower than 10 years earlier. In fact, Union County's 2011 local government job count was its smallest in 23 years. Furthermore, the local government industry cut more jobs from 2010 to 2011 than any other segment of Union County's economy. Both the education and non-education components of local government felt the sting.
These long-term reductions happened despite the fact that population in Union County has grown steadily, if slowly, for quite some time. That larger population base hasn't translated into a larger local government workforce, though.
Union County's changing age structure explains some of the divergence between the county's population trends and the county's local government employment trends. Even though Union County's overall population has been growing, its population under age 18 has been shrinking (Graph 2). From 1990 to 2000, the county's population increased by 932, according to census figures. Yet there were 499 fewer children included in the total. By 2010, the county had 1,218 more residents than in 2000, yet the number of children fell again, this time by 249. An expanding number of adults - and senior citizens in particular - moved Union County's totals upward.
Fewer resident children means smaller enrollment in the county's public schools. And that means fewer school jobs. It's definitely not the only reason school and other local government employment is shrinking here, but it's one of the reasons.
Industry employment data from late 2011 and early 2012 suggest that a modest, long-overdue, private-sector job recovery is finally underway in Union County. Those same data suggest that we can't say the same for the county's school and other local government workers.