Government workers make up approximately 17% of the workers in Alabama, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Just over 2 million people are working in Alabama, 394,000 of whom work in the public sector.

The public sector includes not only bureaucrats but day-to-day municipal or county employees like police and teachers.

Fifty-five thousand public-sector employees in Alabama work for the federal government, according to the Federal Reserve.

The percentage of public workers in the public sector in Alabama was higher in 1990 than today, but only by a little over 1%. Since then, the percentage of workers in the public sector grew, reaching 20.4% in 2010 before shrinking back to around 17% to 19%.

Nevertheless, the total number of public employees in Alabama has increased by approximately 61,400 people since 1990. It has actually decreased by around 2,000 people since its highest point in 2011.

Some say the expansion of the public sector is a bad thing.

“The more troubling overall theme is that government at all levels continues to expand,” said Justin Bogie, the senior director of Fiscal Policy at the Alabama Policy Institute. “Federal, state and local taxpayers are paying for that government expansion. The larger the public sector becomes, the more it limits opportunities in the private sector.”

Bogie said Alabama’s percentage of government workers is about 3.5% higher than the national average.

“From that standpoint, I think you could say that it's alarming,” added Bogie. “In terms of growth, Alabama's number of government employees has grown by about 4.3% in the last 10 years.”

According to Money & Markets, the public sector relies on the private sector for funding. If there were no private sector, there would be no salaries for the employees in the public sector.

Public employees aren’t the only ones dependent on taxpayer dollars, however. That 17% does not include welfare recipients or prisoners.

According to World Population Review, Alabama has the sixth largest proportion of welfare recipients per 100,000 people. For every 100,000 Alabamians, 14,717 receive some form of welfare from the government.

The Alabama Department of Correction’s jurisdictional population as of June 2022 was 26,093. This number only includes state prisoners, not county or federal inmates.

The BLS did not specify whether government contractors, employees of private organizations who perform jobs for the government in exchange for payment, were included in the statistic.

From 2000 to 2020 alone, 325,261 defense contracts were awarded to organizations in Alabama, equating to almost $148 billion. Contracts can also be issued to non-defense organizations by the local, state or federal governments, such as construction companies or organizations that provide food for public schools.

Bogie said the expansion of public sector jobs in particular has political implications. 

“When almost 20% of the population works for the government, it creates a powerful voting block,” Bogie explained. “They are more likely to support candidates who will continue the status quo or further expand government, which is a loss for taxpayers who want smaller government.”

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