Sixty-Six Percent of Wallowa County’s Government Workers Are Local

by Christopher Rich

February 23, 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 708 jobs in Wallowa County in December 2016 and represented 29 percent of total nonfarm employment in the county (based on a 12-month rolling average). Comparing 1990 with 2016, government employment in the county decreased by 13 percent. Wallowa’s public-sector decrease was gradual over the last 23 years, but it began after a short period of growth. Growth in total government for the county started at the end of 1990 and lasted until the start of 1994. During this period, total government employment increased by 88 to reach its peak and contribute 903 jobs to the county’s economy.
From 1994 to 2016, the public sector showed an overall downward trend. Most of the short-lived government employment buildup came from local government with a small boost from federal government. More than half of the decrease however, came from federal government. Federal government peaked at 246 jobs in 1993, but since then federal employment has dropped 59 percent to reach 101 jobs in December 2016. This federal decrease represents roughly 85 percent of the decrease in total government employment since 1990 and 56 percent of the government decrease since 1994. Both the federal increase and decrease came primarily from the Forest Service.

The bulk of federal government jobs in Wallowa County in 2016 (roughly 75%) were found in the Forest Service – a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As many as half of all Forest Service jobs in the county are seasonal and occur from May to November. The United States Postal Service (USPS) accounted for another 20 percent of federal government jobs in the county. 

Local government employment saw growth in Wallowa County from 1990 to 1994, rising 16 percent to reach a peak of 568 jobs. The sector then remained relatively stable until 2001 when it reached a slightly higher peak of 580. A decrease over the last 14 years, however, returned local government employment to 466 jobs in December 2016; just 5 percent below the 1990 mark (488 jobs). The majority of the local government increase and decrease came from the Wallowa County Health Care District and from education. For local government workers, roughly 37 percent of jobs were found in school districts in 2016 and another 33 percent came from the Wallowa County Health Care District. The remaining employment in local government came from the Nez Perce Tribe and from county and city public administration, works, health, and safety.

State government employment saw slow, steady growth from 1990 to 2016 in Wallowa County. Employment rose 34 percent for the period, moving from 105 jobs in 1990 to 141 jobs in 2016. The state’s share of total government employment also grew steadily over the 26-year period. State government represented 13 percent of all government jobs in the county in 1990 and 20 percent in 2016. For Wallowa County, roughly 46 percent of state jobs were home care workers for the elderly, who receive payments through the Department of Human Services (DHS), but who are not DHS employees. Thirteen percent of state jobs were found in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), with another 9 percent in each of the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

The majority of government employment in Wallowa County was provided by local government (60%) in 1990 with federal government second at 27 percent. Local government’s share increased to 66 percent in 2016 with federal government’s share falling to 14 percent. Wallowa County Health Care District and local education provided roughly 46 percent of all government jobs in the county, while the U.S. Forest Service and home care workers provided roughly 20 percent of all government jobs.

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