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Career Handbook - State and Local Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals Introduction
State and Local Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals

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Key Points of Interest:
  • Local government employs more than three times as many service workers than does State government; most are firefighters and law enforcement workers.
  • The attacks of September 11, 2001, will increase demand for police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel; however, budgetary constraints may force spending cuts in other areas, slowing overall employment growth.
  • Employer-provided benefits are more common among State and local government employees than among workers in the private sector.

State and local governments provide their constituents with vital services, such as transportation, public safety, healthcare, education, utilities, and courts. Excluding education and hospitals, State and local governments employ about 7.9 million workers, placing them among the largest employers in the economy. Around two-thirds of these employees work for local governments, such as counties, cities, special districts, and towns. (State and local government hospitals are included in the health services industry and public education is a major part of educational services, both of which are discussed elsewhere in the Career Guide.)

In addition to the 50 State governments, there are about 87,500 local governments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These include about 3,000 county governments; 19,400 municipal governments; 16,500 townships; 13,500 school districts; and 35,100 special districts. Illinois had the most local government units, with more than 6,900; Hawaii had the fewest, with 20.

In many areas of the country, citizens are served by more than one local government unit. For example, most States have counties, which may contain various municipalities such as cites or towns, but which also often include unincorporated rural areas. Townships, which do not exist in some States, may or may not contain municipalities and often consist of suburban or rural areas. Supplementing these forms of local government, special district government bodies are independent, limited purpose governmental units that usually perform a single function or activity. For example, a large percentage of special districts manage the use of natural resources. Some provide drainage and flood control, irrigation, and soil and water conservation services.

The Council of State Governments reports that State and local governments' responsibilities were augmented in the 1990s through "devolution," the practice through which the Federal Government turns over to State and local governments the development, implementation, and management of programs. Welfare reform typifies devolution in practice, with States receiving considerable leeway to devise programs that meet their needs as a result of the 1996 Congressional reform act that provided block grants to States. As the relationship between levels of government continues to change in the coming decade, so will the nature of services provided by State and local governments.

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Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition