Looking back to the 20th century, between January 1939 and January 1944, the federal workforce more than tripled in size. It reached 3.1 million in 1944 and then declined before increasing again in the 1950s. It continued to grow throughout the 20th century, peaking in 1990 at 3.4 million employees. By 1999, that had contracted to 2.8 million.
The federal workforce remained relatively flat for the first decade of the 2000s and hit its most recent low in 2014, with 2.7 million employees. It's grown marginally since then, but remains lower than in the mid-90s.
This workforce is smaller than most US industry workforces, but it is larger than some, including utilities and mining.
How has the federal workforce grown?
Federal government employees work at departments or agencies housed under one of the three branches of government — executive, legislative, or judicial.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) first measured the number of federal employees in January 1939, when the workforce consisted of approximately 912,000 federal employees. By January 1944, that number had more than tripled to 3.41 million in the biggest recorded expansion of the federal workforce.
The most recent anomaly in federal employment data was during 2020 when the number of federal employees increased from 2.86 million in January to 3.19 million in August when the government was hiring temporary Census workers. By December 2020, the federal employee count returned to 2.89 million.
Between January and August of 2023, the number of federal employees had grown by 75,000 people.
What percent of the population works for the federal government?
At the end of 2022, with 2.87 million federal employees, 1.9% of US workers were employed by the federal government.
Since BLS began measuring the data in 1939, the proportion of all workers employed by the federal government has declined by 1 percentage point. In January 1939, there were 900,000 federal employees, 3.0% of the country’s workers.
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Federal employees by agency
Full-time federal employees accounted for nearly 2.2 million of the 2.9 million federal employees in 2022. Most federal agencies, and therefore employees, are under the federal executive branch.
Federal offices with the most personnel in 2022 were Defense-Military Programs (772,300), the Department of Veterans Affairs (411,600), and the Department of Homeland Security (202,800). The Federal Trade Commission, National Credit Union Administration, and Civil Defense Programs had the least, with about 1,000 employees each.
Most federal employees are in California (248,067), Texas (211,873), and Virginia (206,269). Federal employees represent 1.0%, 1.1%, and 3.7% of their respective state’s total workforce. While Washington, DC, has the fourth most federal employees (192,127), they represent 21.2% of the area’s workforce. After Washington, DC, Maryland (183,746) has the second-highest share of federal employees in its workforce at 4.7%.
How do federal employment numbers compare to other industries?
The size of the federal workforce is comparable to that of the information industry (publishing, broadcasting, telecommunications), which has just over 3 million employees. The next-closest industry in size is education services (schools, colleges, universities, and training centers), with approximately 3.8 million workers.
The nation's largest industries by workforce size are leisure and hospitality (15.8 million people), state and local government (19.3 million), healthcare and social assistance (20.6 million), and professional and business services (22.6 million). Professional and business services include a range of operations, including scientific and technical services, management of companies and enterprises, administrative and support services, and waste management and remediation.