Yukonomist: Fun facts for your next violent barbecue debate about government jobs

Have you ever been at a barbecue where someone starts talking loudly about how many government workers there are in the Yukon, apparently unaware that everyone else there works for the government?

Hopefully you can get out of ketchup-bottle range before that someone starts talking about government pensions, too.

It raises the question: do we have a lot of government jobs in the Yukon? Or is that a myth that somehow got started out on the creeks?

If you want to continue to have fact-free debates about the role of the state at barbecues, stop reading now. Economists at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) club of advanced nations have some handy statistics comparing Canada to other members.

The average OECD country employed 18.1 per cent of its workforce in all levels of government, as of 2015. Canada was slightly above average, at 18.2 per cent.

The United States was lower than average, at 15.2 per cent. This is partly explained by how the American private sector is more heavily involved in areas like healthcare and education.

The French government, a bête noire of free-market enthusiasts, employed more than average: 21.4 per cent of the workforce.

The Nordic countries were the highest, ranging from Finland at 24.9 per cent to oil-and-gas rich Norway at 30 per cent. These countries are famous for their extensive social-safety nets and government programs.

So, what’s the figure for the Yukon? The Yukon Bureau of Statistics tells us that for 2018 the Yukon had 9,300 government jobs out of total employment of 21,300.

That’s 43.7 per cent. French socialists will be horrified to learn that the Yukon makes them look positively Thatcherite. They could hire twice as many government employees and we’d still have them beat.

We’re also well more than double the Canadian average.

Our government employment has also been growing fast. In 2014, the figure for the Yukon was 39.4 per cent. That means we’ve increased our figure by 4.3 percentage points in just four years.

If that continues, the last private-sector job here would be phased out in 2071.

We don’t have the same time comparison for the other countries, but the OECD does put out data from 2009 to 2015. During this six-year period, no country in the OECD grew its workforce as much as the Yukon did in the four years leading up to 2018.

Only three countries grew by more than one percentage point, compared to the Yukon’s 4.3. These were led by the Czech Republic, with 2.7 percentage points.

Of the 29 countries in the dataset, nine increased government employment over the period. Meanwhile, 20 cut government jobs, often as a result of aftershocks from the global financial crisis.

Canada, which escaped the worst effects of the crisis, was one of the countries that downsized government overall. This was the net effect of increased hiring at the provincial level, Prime Minister Harper’s cost controls in Ottawa, and a growing number of private sector workers as the economy grew. The net impact over the six-year period was -0.5 percentage points, which is roughly in the middle of the OECD pack.

If your barbecue debate gets particularly energetic, someone will start comparing the Yukon to Communist China.

This is a good chance to make some money if you can convince your friends to start betting.

Unwary bettors will assume that a Communist powerhouse like China will, of course, have more of its workers toiling for the benefit of the state.

However, according to data from China’s Ministry of Labour and its statistical yearbook, analyzed by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, only 10.2 per cent of the Chinese workforce was employed by the government or state-owned companies in 2009.

Even though China had around 80 million government workers, double the entire population of Canada, they were diluted by hundreds of millions of peasants and factory workers.

So the Yukon has four times more government workers as a percentage of its workforce than the People’s Republic of China.

I suggest collecting your money on that bet right away, before your victims start to argue about the reliability of Chinese government statistics or whether the Peterson Institutes definitions are consistent with OECD methodologies.

So what is the use of this information, other than winning bets at barbecues?

Government jobs, like private sector jobs, aren’t good or bad by definition. Any modern society will have a mix of both.

What I take away from the statistics is that the Yukon pendulum has swung very far towards government employment. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to let it swing back a bit the other way, with government agencies trying a bit harder to find more creative ways to deliver programs than just hiring more staff.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist and received the bronze for Outstanding Columnist in the 2019 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

The Boulevard of Hope was launched by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Boulevard of Hope sheds light on Type 1 diabetes

Organizers hope to make it an annual event

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A Yukon survey querying transportation between communities has already seen hundreds of participants and is the latest review highlighting the territory’s gap in accessibility. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Multiple reports, survey decry lack of transportation between Yukon communities

A Community Travel survey is the latest in a slew of initiatives pointing to poor accessibility

Mobile vaccine team Team Balto practises vaccine clinic set-up and teardown at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Mobile vaccine teams are heading out this week to the communities in order to begin Moderna vaccinations. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mobile vaccine teams begin community vaccinations

“It’s an all-of-government approach”

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read