Many Harney County Government Workers Are in Schools and the Hospital

by Christopher Rich

February 14, 2017

Growth in government employment generally draws mixed reviews from the public. Federal, state, and local government serves an essential function in U.S. society, but growth in the public sector can either be seen as progress or infringement depending on one’s point of view. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, this county level analysis of government employment offers insight for any discussion.

Federal, state, and local government provided 1,085 jobs in Harney County in December 2016 and represented 48 percent of total nonfarm employment in the county (based on a 12-month rolling average). Comparing 1990 to 2016, government employment in the county increased by 25 percent. However, Harney’s public sector growth was not constant over the last 26 years. Growth occurred from 1990 to 2002. During this period, total government employment increased 40 percent (+347 jobs) to reach its peak and contribute 1,212 jobs to the county’s economy. From 2003 to 2015, an overall downward trend lowered Harney’s total government footprint by roughly 15 percent. Local government has added jobs since mid-2015, pushing total government employment to its current level.
The 12-year buildup of government employment came almost entirely from local government. Local government employment saw growth in Harney County from 1990 to 2002, rising 56 percent to reach a peak of 779 jobs. This growth was felt across several public firms including the Harney District Hospital, Burns Paiute Tribe, Harney County Education Services District, and the Harney School District. A gradual decrease since 2003, however, brought local government employment down to 642 jobs in August 2015. Since then, the sector has added jobs again to reach 684 at the end of 2016.

For local government workers, roughly 35 percent of jobs were found in school districts in 2016. Another 25 percent came from the Harney District Hospital which has added roughly 80 jobs since 2003, growth of 77 percent. The remaining employment in local government came from the Burns Paiute Tribe, and from county and city public administration, works, health, and safety.

Federal government employment decreased overall from 1990 to 2016. Employment grew 27 percent from 1991 to 1993, but then dropped and bounced along until finally reaching 237 jobs in 2016; down 5 percent from the 1990 mark. The bulk of Harney County’s federal jobs in 2016 were found in two agencies: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS). The BLM provided roughly 46 percent of federal employment in the county in 2016 while the Forest Service provided roughly 27 percent of federal employment. The Agricultural Research Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (U.S. Department of the Interior) also represented 9 percent and 7 percent of federal employment in the county, respectively. 

State government employment grew by 39 percent in Harney County over the last 26 years; an overall gain of 46 jobs. Growth first occurred in the period from 1997 to 1999 when state employment rose from 118 jobs to a peak of 172. In 2003, a drop in employment returned the sector to 122 jobs. Gradual growth since 2004 brought Harney’s state employment to the current mark of 164 in 2016.

The state’s share of total government employment remained relatively constant over the 26-year period. State government represented 14 percent of all government jobs in the county in 1990 and 15 percent in 2016. For Harney County, roughly 33 percent of state jobs were home care workers for the elderly, who receive payments through the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), but who are not DHS employees. Eastern Oregon Youth Care Facility also represented a sizeable chunk of state employment for the county at 32 percent. The Oregon Department of Human Services and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) also accounted for 11 percent and 9 percent of state employment, respectively.  

The majority of government employment in Harney County was provided by local government (57%) in 1990 with federal government second at 29 percent. Local government’s share increased to 63 percent in 2016 with federal government’s share falling to 22 percent. Harney District Hospital and local education provided roughly 38 percent of all government jobs in the county in 2016. The BLM and the Forest Service, along with home care workers and the Eastern Oregon Youth Care Facility provided roughly 26 percent of all government jobs in the county.

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