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.
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.
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."
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.