Any economists around for a quick, easy question?

My question is in relation to public employees and unemployment figures.

I seem to recall that I learned years ago that public employees (people employed by government agencies) are not counted in employment or unemployment statistics. Since they are paid by tax dollars, they are not deemed to be productive in the same sense as private-sector employees are.

The scenario that prompts my question: Right now, some are predicting that as many 100,000 public school teachers in Texas will lose their jobs due to the state’s financial situation. This being GQ, I do not mean to debate the wisdom of this or the accuracy of the number. However, I am struck by how the party who screams “jobs, jobs, JOBS!” is not the least concerned that so many people will be out of work. Is it possible that they lack concern because it will come at no political cost? These 100K public employees can all become jobless, but it will not impact Texas’ published unemployment rates because, being public employees, they are not included in economic statistics.

Without being political, is my concept accurate? If 100K public employees become jobless (for whatever reason), will it affect unemployment statistics?

Good question. Once they lose their job, they are no longer public employees and I would think will show up in the unemployed figures.

Yeah, but in order to be considered unemployed, one has to have been employed in the first place. Public employees are not employed and therefore would not be considered unemployed.

All the recent census workers were counted in the employment figures, so I think the premise of this thread is incorrect.

Civilian government employees are included. It is the active military that is excluded, as well as the prison population.

Federal employees do pay into a separate fund, so they may not show up in state unemployment data. I can’t remember the specifics on that.

Here is a link to more information.

I am not an economist but I am confident that this is BS of the first order (and really quite offensive BS at that). Of course public employees are employed (the clue is in the word “employee”), they are also productive, producing many goods and even more services, many of which are vital to the smooth running of the economy and to other people’s health, safety, and quality of life. (You do realize, do you, that people like teachers, police, firefighters, and the military are all public employees?) And, of course, if they ceased to be employed they would be unemployed. If they were not counted in the statistics then the statistics would be being falsified in a thoroughly dishonest manner.

Public employees are not non-persons!

So according to this a young person coming onto the job market for the first time, actively seeking work, but unable to find a job, is not unemployed? Try telling that to them (or their parents.)

It’s not about personhood. Now, in this case the OP is misinformed: public employees do count. However, as mentioned by Active Pagan, active military are not considered “in the labor force” and are not counted as employed. No one thinks they don’t do valuable work, but, as I understand it, since the term of their employment is not voluntary and they can’t really be laid off or quit for a better job, they don’t function, in an economic sense, like normal employees. The same goes for prisoners.

No worries. Those people are counted. The big under counted group are the ones who have quit looking for work out of dispair (or a rational analysis of their chances) but would still give a kidney for a job.

I came here looking for an answer to this question, not to debate whether or not it was good policy. I am a public school teacher, so I am quite well aware of the fact that I, and those like me, do valuable work. We also certainly do participate in the economy.

My premise came from a conversation a dimly remember from long ago, so I wanted to come here and check on it before I repeated my assertion to others. I agree that not including public employees’ employment status would render employment statistics dishonest. My concern was that that is exactly what was going on.

This is less an economics question than a political question, but having done some looking around, the answer appears to be that it’s nonsense. Public employees are counted in employment figures. I cannot find any definition anywhere that suggests that public employees aren’t counted as employed workers except, as has already been pointed out, for uniformed members of the armed services.

This doesn’t make any sense. Who says you have to be employed first to be considered unemployed later? That’s not how the government defines it.

Some of the unemployment statistics out there only count new filings for unemployment to get at new layoffs or the rate at which unemployment may be changing. Those people do have to have been employed previously. DrumGod may be thinking of those and confusing it with the overall unemployment rate.

Not true. As dracoi points out, you’re mixing up two different things.

You read the news, and you hear reports about how filings for jobless benefits have increased/decreased/stayed the same, but that has nothing at all to do with the official rate. Those reports counting how many people file for benefits make the news first because the data is easier to gather, but those applications for jobless benefits aren’t included in any official unemployment rate. They’re just a way of sticking a moist finger in the air to get a feel for the wind. The real numbers take a little bit longer to calculate for accuracy’s sake, or so they hope, and the real numbers are designed to include everybody who’s (actively) looking for work, regardless of whether they’ve had a job before.

And yeah, as others have said, public employees (excluding active military) are definitely part of the labor force. They are counted.

No unemployment statistics released by any reputable organization do anything of the sort. I’ve heard news reports taking about “people filing for UI” or such things, but the **unemployment rate **is invariably the one reported by the government, which has nothing to do with unemployment benefits.

Meh, Hellestal already said this. Darn.

I think you may be misparsing the statement. One of the numbers reported in the jobs report is something like “new applications for unemployment”. This number is reported (in the US) by the federal Labor Department, not as the unemployment rate, but as a different number in the same report. It is not used to determine the unemployment rate, but can be used as one of the indicators of where things are going. I think this might be what dracoi is referring to.

For what it’s worth, I drew unemployment benefits in Illinois in 2005 when I got out of the Army. I’m pretty sure I was told to do so by the separation counselor as I was leaving Ft Riley, KS, so I doubt IL was the only state doing it. So I don’t think it’s true that ex-military don’t count as unemployed, either in statistics or in the unemployment office.

Nobody is saying they don’t. If you are looking for a job and can’t find one, you count as unemployed.

What is undoubtedly the case, however, is that while in the military, you don’t count as being in the labor force at all. You are not counted as employed or unemployed.

I don’t know precisely why they do that, but they do.

I recall numerous discussions of unemployment figures from the news.
Basically, if you are actively seeking a job (registered with the local government job bank or whatever it is called) you care counted as unemployed - “want to work but can’t find a job”. Of course, people on unemployment benefits are usually required to register as searching for a job (and some able-bodied welfare recipients?), so the newly let go workers will be a big source of new job-seeker numbers.

The problem always discussed as “miscounts” are the people who give up looking for a job, because they can’t find one for whatever reason, plus people who are looking for jobs but not in the local government job bank lists. So unemployment is likely higher than the statistics say - the debate is how much higher?


You do not need to be registered with any government of job agency of any kind. That isn’t how it works.

The unemployment rate is figured by actually surveying a sample of households and asking questions about their employment status. They’re not actually “counting” everyone; it’s a sampling, albeit a very large and accurate one.

If you are available for work, able to work, and not working, you’re unemployed. It doesn’t matter if you are drawing benefits or registered with a job bank.

My Econ professor always liked to quote Harry Truman: “Give me a one-armed economist! All of mine say, ‘Well, on the one hand… and then again, on the other…’”