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Chief financial officer Jeff Atwater speaks at a pre-legislative news conference on Jan. 28, 2015, in Tallahassee. (AP photo) Chief financial officer Jeff Atwater speaks at a pre-legislative news conference on Jan. 28, 2015, in Tallahassee. (AP photo)

Chief financial officer Jeff Atwater speaks at a pre-legislative news conference on Jan. 28, 2015, in Tallahassee. (AP photo)

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin July 22, 2015

Greece employs three times as many government workers as Florida, Atwater says

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater capitalized on news about the floundering Greek economy to point out a new report that said the Florida economy was doing just fine.

In an "open letter to the people of Florida," Atwater said the Sunshine State had been ranked fifth in fiscal solvency by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. He then contrasted Florida’s success with the beleaguered European nation.

"A country in economic peril, Greece’s priorities have historically been very different from Florida’s," Atwater wrote on July 13, 2015. "For example, Greeks depend much more on their government for employment and services. Although we have twice the population of Greece, the State of Florida employs three times fewer government employees."

PunditFact previously confirmed that Greece’s economic output is comparable to Miami, but could that 3-to-1 comparison of public-sector workers be accurate? Yes, if you’re looking at Florida’s direct employees, but experts we talked to said Atwater’s comparison is deeply flawed.

Greek tragedy

First of all, let’s stipulate that Greece’s population is about 11 million, while the Census Bureau says Florida is now closing in on 20 million, so he’s close on that point.

Comparing employment is a bit trickier, since Greece’s public-sector employment has been in flux. To adhere to what its European lenders are demanding, Greece has spent several years trying to cut down its reliance on public-sector jobs.

Atwater’s office told us they used 2013 data from Greece’s Ministry of Administrative Reform and E-Governance for Greek government workers (653,746) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics program for Florida state employees (207,008). 

Several sources agreed 2015 estimates put the current number of Greek public-sector employees at around 600,000. Florida’s employee numbers have stayed relatively stable in that time frame, with about 208,000 this year, so it looks like the 3-to-1 ratio Atwater cited could stand. 

But our experts said the CFO is really comparing oranges to olives here. 

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Rollins College business professor James Johnson pointed out that those 600,000 Greek jobs include all government workers -- those paid by the central government and those paid by regional and municipal governments.

A better way to measure the state’s government employment would be to add Florida’s 133,000 or so federal workers to Atwater’s 207,000 total, Rollins said. And even more important are the more than 730,000 workers toiling away at the local level. Also, Washington sends money to Florida that directly and indirectly affects workers at the state and local levels.

Add that all up, and there are almost 1.1 million government employees on all levels across Florida at any given time. That is quite a bit more than the 600,000 or so Greek government workers. 

Experts also note that Greek economic woes aren’t entirely about how many people are currently employed by the government.

"Greece’s problem was not so much the size of its public sector, but generous retirement benefits, including pensions," Johnson said. Greece doesn’t even top Europe in terms of highest percentage of the workforce employed by the public sector. In 2011, before Greece started cutting workers, it ranked behind Italy, Germany and France.

In any event, fairly comparing a single U.S. state with a sovereign nation is largely impossible, considering the different sets of responsibilities each bears, our experts said. 

Atwater’s office reiterated that it was making a point that the Greek central government is wasteful and poorly run when compared to Florida, but experts told us that it’s difficult at best to draw such parallels.

"It’s sort of a totally different system. It is fair to say the state of Florida is more efficient than the country of Greece, but you could say that about any other state," Jupiter-based financial analyst Tom Essaye said. "It would be much more fair to compare Florida to other states than Greece."

Our ruling

Atwater said, "the State of Florida employs three times fewer government employees" than Greece.

Florida does directly employ about one-third as many state government workers as Greece does. But a more reasonable comparison should also include government workers at the federal and local levels -- which means Florida’s overall total of government workers would outnumber Greece’s public-sector employees. 

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate Atwater’s statement Half True.

Our Sources

Jeff Atwater, "An open letter to the people of Florida," July 13, 2015

Business Insider, "Guess Which Country Has The Highest Percentage Of Workers Employed By The Government," Nov. 28, 2011

New York Times, "Greece to Eliminate 15,000 Government Jobs," Feb. 6, 2012

Greek Reporter, "The Number of Public Workers in Greece Declines, says Census," April 10, 2012

Reuters, "Greece to revive public servants dismissal plan - sources," Aug. 9, 2012

New York Times, "The Cost of Protecting Greece’s Public Sector," Oct. 10, 2012

Christian Science Monitor, "Greece starts firing civil servants for first time in a century," April 26, 2013

European Commission, "The Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece Fourth Review," April 2014

International Monetary Fund, "IMF Country Report No. 14/151," June 2014

Greek Reporter, "Greek Public Sector Employees Reduced by 267,095," July 21, 2014

Orlando Sentinel, "Syriza: Big, fat economic challenges: Front & Center," Feb. 3, 2015

CNBC, "Saving Greece is not the ECB’s job: Weidmann," March 12, 2015

Wall Street Journal, "Greece Rehires Laid Off Cleaners as Syriza Reverses Austerity," May 11, 2015

PolitiFact, "Jeb Bush says he cut 13,000 state workforce jobs as governor," June 9, 2015

ABC News, "Some of the Reasons Greece Got Into Its Economic Crisis," June 30, 2015

CNBC, "Expert predictions on what lies ahead for Greece," July 6, 2015

PunditFact, "Yep, Greece and Miami metro have about the same GDP," July 6, 2015

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Current Employment Statistics, accessed July 16, 2015

U.S. Census Bureau, Florida Quickfacts, accessed July 16, 2015

Florida Department of Management Services, "2013-14 State Personnel System Annual Workplace Report," accessed July 16, 2015

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Government at a Glance 2011: Greece, accessed July 16, 2015

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida employment: Government, accessed July 16, 2015

World Bank, World Development Indicators: Greece, accessed July 16, 2015

George Mason University Mercatus Center, "How Does Florida Compare to Other States?," accessed July 16, 2015

Interview with Ashley Carr, Atwater spokeswoman, July 16-17, 2015

Interview with Tom Essaye, financial analyst and Sevens Report creator, July 16, 2015

Interview with Ilene Grabel, Co-director of the MA program in Global Finance, Trade & Economic Integration at the University of Denver, July 17, 2015

Interview with James Johnson, Rollins College international business professor and Global Consulting Projects director, July 16-17, 2015

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Greece employs three times as many government workers as Florida, Atwater says

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