PROVIDENCE – Contrary to popular belief, Rhode Island does not have all that many state and local government workers compared with other states, a new study has found.
Last year, there were 53,185 non-federal public employees in Rhode Island, with 33,940 of them working for local governments and 19,245 working for the state.
As a share of all public and private workers in Rhode Island, state and local government employees made up 12.1 percent of the total work force.
That was lower than both the national average of 13.6 percent and the totals for all but five other states: Pennsylvania, at 10 percent; New Hampshire and Colorado, 11.2 percent; Nevada, 11.5 percent; and Indiana, 11.8 percent.
State and local workers made up the largest share of the work force in Wyoming and Alaska, at 22 percent and 20.8 percent, respectively.
In New England, they were most prevalent in Vermont, at 14.8 percent, followed by Connecticut, 13.3 percent; Maine, 12.8 percent; and Massachusetts, 12.7 percent.
The statistics were included in a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal research group in Washington, that found state and local workers’ wages are often higher than private-sector workers’ because the former tend to be “older and substantially better educated.”
“When state and local government workers are matched with private-sector workers of the same age and the same level of education, the public employees actually earn less than their private-sector counterparts,” John Schmitt, a senior economist at the center, wrote in the study. He did not examine benefits such as health insurance or pensions.
In Rhode Island, the median age of a state and local government employee was 45, compared with a median age of 40 in the private sector, the study found.
And more than half of Rhode Island’s state and local workers – 59.3 percent – had at least a college degree, double the share with at least a four-year degree in the private sector, which was 29.6 percent.
State and local government employment in Rhode Island shrank 3.5 percent between June 2008 and June 2009, more than in any other state, according to a report released last summer by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.