Politics & Government

State government’s workforce is growing slightly in size again

The state government’s workforce has grown by small amounts for the second year in a row since the Great Recession, a new report shows.

Overall, 923 full- or part-time workers were added to the executive branch agencies in the year that ended June 30. But the new headcount of 59,878 workers under Gov. Jay Inslee still is far lower than the 63,871 who were on the state payroll in June 2010.

Another 709 staff members are employed in the legislative branch and 457 in the judicial branch, bringing all general government employment in full- or part-time positions to 61,044 — not including higher education.

Glen Christopherson, assistant director for human resources at the state Office of Financial Management, said in a message accompanying the 2014 Washington State Workforce Data & Trends Report that it is intended “to provide the public and other interested parties with current, accurate and useful information on the state workforce.”

Overall, it shows that for all the shrinking of state government, many characteristics of the workforce have remained quite stable over the past five years — which is to say the workforce is older and whiter, a little more likely to have served in the military and less likely to be disabled than the private workforce as a whole. The recent growth in workers — about 1.6 percent over the year — was relatively small compared with cuts since 2008.

“It hasn’t changed a lot,” Christopherson said in an interview Friday, adding that workforce demographics help highlight areas the state wants to do better.

An example is the state workforce’s low percentage of disabled workers. The figure was just 2.9 percent, down from 3.4 percent two years ago and less than half what the U.S. Census Bureau found in the state’s civilian workforce.

“As an HR person, you want to be sure you turn that trend back up before it becomes statistically relevant,’’ Christopherson said, noting Gov. Jay Inslee has issued executive orders addressing the hiring of people with disabilities as well as military veterans. Christopherson said the actual percentage might be higher because disabled status is self-reported.

About 9.5 percent of state workers are military veterans, slightly higher than in the civilian workforce but lower than the 11.5 percent of state workers in 2010. Christopherson said Vietnam era veterans are hitting retirement age, and the challenge is connecting with veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who have skills that can adapt to state work.

The data shows 18.7 percent of the workforce is people of color, well below the 24.1 percent in the private sector. But that is a slight improvement from the 18 percent figure in 2010, which is the result of hiring efforts, Christopherson said.

OFM says most of the job gains were concentrated in five agencies — with 436 at Social and Health Services, 129 at the Health Care Authority (which expanded Medicaid), 111 at Corrections (which added beds in two prisons), 97 at Labor & Industries, and 61 at the State Patrol.

Among nuggets of information in the report: