Twenty-Four Percent of Malheur County’s Government Workers Are in the Penitentiary

Twenty-Four Percent of Malheur County’s Government Workers Are in the Penitentiary

by Christopher Rich

December 19, 2016

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 3,314 jobs to Malheur County in October 2016 and represented 28.1 percent of total nonfarm employment in the county (based on a 12-month rolling average). By point in time comparison of 1990 to 2016, government employment in the county increased by 43.0 percent. However, Malheur’s public sector growth was not constant over the last 26 years. Growth actually came between 1990 and 2000 when total government employment grew 55.3 percent and added 1,283 jobs to the county’s economy. From 2001 to 2016, on the other hand, the public sector showed an overall downward trend, decreasing by 8.0 percent.  

The 10-year buildup of government employment came almost entirely from state government with the addition of the Snake River Correctional Institution. According to the Department of Corrections, the Snake River facility opened in 1991 with 648 beds and was slated to hold 3,000 beds upon completion of “phase two.” Phase two construction began in 1994 and finished in 1998. After the expansion, Snake River Correctional Institution became Oregon’s largest correctional facility; employing roughly 900 people. The Snake River facility helped boost state government employment by more than 244.0 percent; from 376 jobs in 1990 to 1,296 jobs in 2001.

Snake River correctional workers accounted for roughly 70.0 percent of state employees in Malheur County in 2016. The Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) each accounted for roughly 7.0 percent of state employment in the county. Home care workers for the elderly, who receive payments through DHS but who are not DHS employees, accounted for roughly 10.0 percent of state employment.

Local government employment grew little in Malheur County by point in time comparison of 1990 to 2016. Employment for the sector rose only 4.7 percent for the period, moving from 1,727 jobs in 1990 to 1,809 jobs in 2016. There was, however, a period of growth from 1990 to 1999 in which local government employment grew by 20.7 percent to reach 2,084 jobs. Employment remained relatively flat following this period of growth and then in 2010 began decreasing until it reached its current level. For local government workers, roughly 71.0 percent of employment in 2016 came from school districts or Treasure Valley Community College. The remaining employment in local government came from county and city public administration, works, health, and safety. 

Federal government employment matched local government in terms of overall growth from 1990 to 2016. Employment rose only 4.7 percent for the period, moving from 215 jobs in 1990 to 225 jobs in 2016. Federal government employment remained flat for the 26-year period with the bulk of Malheur’s federal jobs found in two agencies: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Postal Service (USPS). The BLM provided roughly 61.0 percent of federal employment in the county in 2016 while the USPS provided roughly 25.0 percent of federal employment.

Local government provided the majority of government employment in Malheur County prior to 1999, but with the addition of the Snake River Correctional Institution state government captured a larger share. Malheur County’s government employment came primarily from local (54.6%) and state government (38.6%) in 2016. Local education provided roughly 42.0 percent of all government jobs in the county, while the Snake River Correctional Institution provided roughly 24.0 percent of all government jobs.