Government Structure & Finances

How big is the US government, including at the state and local levels? How much does government spend?

Latest update on March 22, 2023

What are the basics of government in the US?

The US is composed of 50 states, the District of Columbia, associated jurisdictions (including Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa), 574 federally recognized American Indian tribes and over 90,000 local governments.

There are three levels of government: federal, state, and local.

Federal government structure

The federal government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the US Constitution, the country’s supreme legal document. The Constitution divides the federal government into three branches. The legislative branch makes laws, the executive branch carries out the laws, and the judicial branch evaluates laws.

Branch of government
Primary bodies and additional government actors


Senate (100 senators) and House of Representatives (435 representatives)


President and Vice President


Supreme Court of the United States (9 justices)

Branch of government




State government structure

Under the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution, all powers not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states and people. Although not required by the Constitution, all state governments are modeled after the federal government and have three branches. All states, except Nebraska, have two legislative bodies.

Branch of government
Primary bodies and additional government actors


Senate, House (except Nebraska)




State Supreme Court

Branch of government




Local government structure

In 2017, there were 90,075 local governments across the US.

Every five years, the Census Bureau conducts its Census of Governments, taking inventory of the number of state and local government bodies across the US. The survey includes documenting purpose, employment, finances, and governmental powers. The latest data published was from 2017. Results from the 2022 Census of Governments have not been published.

The Census Bureau recognizes five types of local governments:

  • Counties
  • Cities or municipal governments
  • Townships
  • Special districts (such as utility, health, fire, water, library, or hospital districts)
  • School districts

Counties, municipalities, and townships are general-purpose governments providing many services. School districts and other special district governments perform only a limited number of functions.

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Combined government spending and revenue

In fiscal year 2020, federal, state, and local governments spent a combined $10.2 trillion.

Governments received $6.6 trillion in revenue.

USAFacts categorizes government budget data to allocate spending appropriately and to arrive at the estimate presented here. Spending increased by about 30% between fiscal years 2019 and 2020 due to the pandemic.

Government revenue and expenditures are based on data from the Office of Management and Budget, the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Each is published annually, although due to collection times, state and local government data are less current than federal data. Thus, the most recent year for a combined number may be delayed when combining federal, state, and local revenues and expenditures.

With spending and revenue expected to increase as the population grows, a per capita option is provided in the graph below to provide additional context.

Federal government spending and revenue

In fiscal year 2020, the federal government spent $7.6 trillion and received $4.0 trillion in revenue.

Since 2001, the federal government has had a deficit each year.

The federal government is not required to balance its budget or spend based on the money it brings in during a given year. When government spending exceeds revenue in a given fiscal year, the resulting number is called the federal deficit. When revenue exceeds spending, it is called a surplus. Caused by increased spending to counteract the economic effects of the pandemic, the federal deficit in 2020 was $3.7 trillion.

In fiscal year 2020, four categories accounted for most federal government spending: Social Security; standard of living and aid for the disadvantaged; Medicare; and national defense. Federal spending in the standard of living and aid for the disadvantaged category includes unemployment insurance, various cash-based assistance programs, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a food assistance program.

The federal government's two primary revenue sources are individual income taxes and payroll taxes, the latter of which are the primary funding sources of Social Security and Medicare.

State & local government spending and revenue

In fiscal year 2020, the state and local governments spent $3.6 trillion. The governments received $3.7 trillion in revenue, including taxes.

Two categories of spending account for more than half of state and local government spending: education and standard of living and aid for the disadvantaged, most notably Medicaid.

Unlike the federal government, most state and local governments must balance their budgets, ensuring they don't spend more money than they take in.

State and local government revenue vary by location, though the primary sources include fund transfers from the federal government, sales and excise taxes, and property taxes.

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Full-time equivalent employees of government

In 2021, 20.4 million people worked for various governments in the US. This includes the military.

About 1 in 7 jobs in the US are in federal, state, or local governments.

Federal departments track government employment in various ways. For example, the Bureau of Economic Analysis dataset of full-time equivalent employees — a measurement of the number of workers based on a full-time workweek — allows for comparisons between multiple levels of government and private industries. The BEA's categorization of federal government workers includes:

  • civilian government workers,
  • members of the military
  • workers of government enterprises like the US Postal Service or Amtrak.

State and local government employment includes people who work in education, other government workers, and workers in state or local government-owned enterprises like utility companies.

Federal civilian employees, by department

In 2022, 436,487 people were working in the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than any other federal agency.

The federal government's Office of Personnel Management tracks the number of people who work for the government. The accompanying graph shows the top 10 agencies as of 2022 based on civilian employees, including full-time and other workers.

Visit the Defense & Military page to explore the number of active-duty employees of the US military.

State & local government employees

In 2021, 10,487,926 state and local government employees worked in education.

The Census Bureau's Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll breaks down state and local government employees based on their function in government. The data cited here counts all employees, full-time or part-time.

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