Big City, Big Staff—But Maybe Not as Big as It Seems

Posted by Doug Turetsky, January 21, 2009

As Mayor Bloomberg wrestles with the city’s projected budget gaps, pressure to reduce the size of the municipal workforce—by far the city’s biggest single expenditure—is growing. In the wake of the last recession, full-time city staffing dropped to 239,616 in 2003 from a previous high of nearly 251,000 in 2000. Since 2003, full-time staffing has grown steadily, reaching 280,649 at the end of the last fiscal year, a rise of more than 41,000 over five years.

While full-time staffing has grown at nearly every city agency, a large share of the growth occurred at just a few. The Department of Education saw the biggest rise in total number of employees: the number of teachers, principals, and other classroom staff (pedagogical employees in budget speak) rose by nearly 19,000 from 2003 through 2008, when it totaled 112,852; the number of non-pedagogical employees also jumped by nearly 4,000 over the same period, reaching 10,760 in 2008.

But numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. While the city has steadily increased the ranks of teachers, a significant share of the rise in education department staff isn’t really due to new hiring—but rather from a reclassification of about 15,000 paraprofessionals who were previously listed as part-timers and not included in full-time staffing levels. The same holds true at the parks department, where the official full-time headcount nearly doubled to 3,702 by 2008 as many so-called seasonal workers who were really working full time were added to the count.

Still, the staffs of many agencies increased because more people were hired. Under plans to beef up its inspection and enforcement efforts, the Department of Buildings has grown 45 percent since 2003 and had 1,162 full-time employees in 2008. Full-time staffing at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has grown even more since 2003 in both percentage and absolute terms, rising by 60 percent to 5,202 in 2008. The Mayor’s office has also gotten bigger, growing by nearly 11 percent since 2003 to a full-time headcount of 923 in 2008.

Not every agency saw growth in its full-time staff. The number of uniformed officers at both the police and correction departments declined during the 2003-2008 period. The number of police officers fell by 715 to 35,405—though the number of civilian employees grew because school safety agents were reclassified as full-time workers. The number of correction officers dropped by 404 to 9,149. At the Commission on Human Rights staffing has declined by more than 25 percent, to 79 in 2008.

So while the total city workforce has certainly grown since the last recession, the number of workers newly added to the payroll is not as high as the numbers indicate at first blush. Nor are the increases equal across all agencies.

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