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Too many public sector workers in Ontario?


Opponents of public services often try to portray the public sector as having grown disproportionately.  In fact, since 1976, the number of public sector employees has not quite kept pace with the population.

In 1976, the number of public sector employees in Ontario as reported by Statistics Canada averaged 830,800.  By 2012, the number had increased to 1,330,700 -- a 60.2% increase.  That sounds like significant growth -- true.

But the population has increased  from 8,413,779 in 1976 to 13,505,900 in 2012, a 60.5% increase.  

In other words, population growth has run slightly ahead of the growth in public sector employment.    
In 1976, close to 10% of the population worked in the public sector.  It stayed pretty much this way until the Mike Harris government came to power when it dipped below 9%.  It returned close to the historical range in the last six years or so, declining in 2012 to below the 1976 average.

This likely understates the decline in public service provided to the population.  Since 1976 average usual weekly hours have declined 5% in Ontario as part-time employment has grown more quickly than full time employment.  So the ratio of hours of public sector work relative to population will likely have declined more than the ratio of public sector employment to population.

The percentage of the population working in the public sector has also not kept pace with the increasing portion of the population working.  The percentage of the population working has increased from 44.5% of the population in 1976 to 50.2% in 2012, a very large increase.

With a slightly shrinking percentage of the population working in the public sector, the entire increase (and more) has been accounted for by an increase in the percentage working in the private sector (which saw an increase from 29.9% to 32.7% of the population) and by the increase in the percentage working self-employed (which saw an increase from 4.7% to 7.7% of the population).

With this, public sector employment has declined from 22.2% of all employment to 19.6%. So public sector workers are a significantly smaller portion of the total workforce.

So, a disproportionate public sector? Hardly.


Given the change in the balance of power between labour and corporations (in favour of the latter) since 1976, it is a credit to working people that public sector workers (and, by extension, public sector services) have fallen back only as far as we have. 

For a chart outlining this data click here. More on this in the next post, dated April 8.

Note: an earlier version of this article was based on incorrect population estimates for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, making the decline in the ratio of public sector workers to population appear greater than it is.

Update: click here.

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