How many Americans work in government? That’s a difficult question to answer. Officially, as of 2009, the federal government employed 2.8 million individuals out of a total U.S. workforce of 236 million — just over 1 percent of the workforce. But it’s not quite as simple as that. Add in uniformed military personnel, and the figure goes up to just under 4.4 million. There are also 66,000 people who work in the legislative branch and for federal courts. That makes the figure around 2 percent of the workforce.
Yet even that doesn’t tell the full story. A lot of government work is done by contractors or grantees — from arms manufacturers to local charities, from environmental-advocacy groups to university researchers. A lot of the work they do is funded nearly entirely by taxpayers, so they should count as part of the federal government. Unfortunately, we can’t ask the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) how many government contractors and grantees there are. They don’t keep such records.