There is an interesting web page maintained by the Office of State Human Resources that tracks information about state employees who are subject to the State Personnel Act. These are known as SPA employees. This is an important distinction, because there are employees who are exempt from the State Personnel Act . This can get complicated, but the traditional rank-and-file employees are SPA, as opposed to university deans and exempt policy-makers.
At the end of March, according to this web page, there were 85,946 SPA employees working for the state, about 3.25 percent less than the end of 2012. (As far back as the data on this page goes.) Most of them are in three agencies: Department of Public Safety (22,892), Department of Health and Human Services (15,994) and Department of Transportation (11,246).
These SPA folks have an average annual salary of $44,047. They have been working for the state just over 11 years, on average, and they are around 46 years old. Again, on average. Because 471 of them are 70 years and older. You could look it up.
And, not surprisingly, just over 27 percent of them work in Wake County, 23,254 SPA employees. At the end of 2012, that figure was 225 employees higher.
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There are a few different ways to look at the number of state employees. Some will argue (Democrats, mostly) that by reducing the number, the policy makers (read: the Republican governor and Republican-led General Assembly) are making it harder for the state to provide essential services, particularly when it comes to performing regulatory functions and meeting the needs of an aging population. Others will argue (Republicans, mostly), that keeping a lid on hiring forces the government to think of ways to deliver services more efficiently, to innovate.
Creating more tension is the fact that the state is growing. Between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, we will probably add another million residents, a nearly 11 percent increase. Will we add another 5,000 or so state employees by then? Will we stay flat? Or will we have fewer? I can’t say for sure which is the best path because I don’t know what kinds of innovation or efficiencies are in the works. But I do know that much of government resembles labor-intensive, service-oriented businesses in which great productivity gains are hard to come by. I don’t see robots being installed in Highway Patrol vehicles any time soon.