Wisconsin’s Public Sector Employment Continues to Fall

In 2021, Wisconsin’s state and local governments and school districts counted just under 277,800 full-time equivalent employees, the fewest on a per-capita basis in two decades. While the pandemic played a role, years of tight school revenue limits and local property tax caps also likely contributed. Other factors may include technology, rising healthcare costs, and declining school enrollments. Average pay for these Wisconsin workers also declined relative to the nation, though that may reflect lagging incomes for all workers in the state.

Last year, out of every 1,000 state residents, 35.6 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) worked for a local government (including school districts) in Wisconsin and 11.5 for the state government. Those numbers are down markedly from the early 2000s and have fallen even more than the national trend. In fact, the 47.1 state and local government FTEs in Wisconsin per 1,000 residents is the lowest level in the last two decades

In 2002, Wisconsin’s state and local employment level per capita was 2.5% below the national average. By 2021, however, Wisconsin’s employment level per capita was 4.7% below the U.S. average. The total of 277,783 state and local government FTEs in Wisconsin was also lower in absolute terms in 2021 than in 2002 (289,944).

Compared to other states, Wisconsin tends to deliver more services at the local level and looking at local government employment alone yields an even clearer story. In 2021, Wisconsin employed 11.5% fewer local FTEs per capita compared to 2002, the tenth-largest decline of any state and above the national decline of 9.2%. This drop-off is largely driven by a decline in employment in K-12 school districts, which account for a majority of local workers in the state.