As a percentage of the population, the U.S. government workforce is much smaller than 50 years ago


Back in my school days, mathematics was not my strongest subject — which is why I sometimes try to redeem myself by fighting against certain glaring examples of innumeracy.

The following passage, which I ran across this morning on the Internet, is a case in point:

For much of our nation’s history, the federal government was quite small. In 1790, it had just 1,000 nonmilitary workers. In 1962, there were 2,515,000 federal employees. Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.

This exponential growth has led to increasing power and independence for agencies.

It’s true, no doubt, that the federal government is now more powerful than it was in 1962. But it’s foolish to say that this increase in power can be measured by the growth of the federal workforce.

The big problem with the argument above is that, in reality, there has not been any “exponential growth” in the federal workforce since 1962.

The overall American population in 1962 was about 186 million. Today it’s about 312 million. That’s an increase of almost 68 percent.

But the increase in the federal workforce since 1962 — from 2.5 million to 2.8 million — is only 13 percent.

Putting it another way, in 1962, there was one federal employee for every 75 Americans. Today, there is one federal worker for every 111 Americans.


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