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Government jobs at lowest in 47 years... or 4 years

October 22, 2013: 2:35 PM ET
Federal jobs, not including the postal service, are at their lowest level in four years. (Spikes represent temporary Census jobs every 10 years)

Federal jobs, not including postal jobs, are at a four-year low. (Spikes represent temporary Census jobs every 10 years)

Federal jobs are at their lowest level level in 47 years... or 4 years. It depends on how you look at it.

About 2.7 million people worked for Uncle Sam in September, not including military. According to the Department of Labor, that's the lowest number since 1966! Could it be that the government workforce is at its smallest size since the Lyndon Johnson administration?

Not exactly.

Digging deeper into the data shows a massive decline in postal workers is the biggest driver. Since 1999, USPS has slashed more than 300,000 jobs, or roughly a third of its workforce.

Why is this distinction important? Since 1971, postal service jobs have not been funded by taxpayer dollars.

Instead, the USPS operates as a semi-independent government agency, relying on postage for revenue. Wages and benefits are funded by postage too. To be sure, it's been a faulty business model: The postal service has been losing money for years and that's why it's cutting jobs.

These jobs offered decent wages and good benefits, so it's an unfortunate story for middle-class workers who depended on them.

But stripping out postal service employees shows that the drop in overall government workers isn't nearly as dramatic. In September, there were 2.1 million federal government jobs excluding postal workers. That's the lowest level since August 2009.

So what's the real story? The rise and subsequent decline in federal jobs over the last four years is due to the government deploying stimulus dollars amid the recession and then enacting budget cuts shortly afterward.

Still, if the aim is smaller government, then the trend is headed in that direction. Not including postal workers, federal government jobs accounted for 1.6% of all jobs in the American economy in September.

Back in the 1960s, it was around 3%.

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About This Author
Annalyn Censky
Annalyn Kurtz
Writer, CNNMoney

Annalyn Kurtz is a senior writer at CNNMoney, where she covers America's jobs crisis, Federal Reserve policy and other economic news. Before joining the site in 2010, she served as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Prague and interned at Fortune Small Business magazine. @annalynkurtz

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