Local governments employ more than twice as many workers as State governments. Professional and service occupations accounted for more than half of all jobs; fire fighters and law enforcement workers, concentrated in local government, are the largest occupations. Although job prospects vary by State and region, overall prospects are expected to be favorable. Employer-provided benefits are more common among State and local government employees than among workers in the private sector.
Excluding education and hospitals, State and local governments employ about 8.0 million workers, placing them among the largest employers in the economy. Seven out of 10 of these employees work for local governments, such as counties, cities, special districts, and towns. In addition, large numbers of State and local workers work in public education; they are not included in these figures. These workers form a major part of the educational services industry. Many State and local workers also work in public hospitals.
In addition to the 50 State governments, there were about 87,500 local governments in 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These included about 3,000 county governments; 19,400 municipal governments; 16,500 townships; 13,500 school districts; and 35,100 special districts. Illinois had the most local government units, with more than 6,900; Hawaii had the fewest, with 20.
In many areas of the country, citizens are served by more than one local government unit. For example, most States have counties, which may contain various municipalities such as cites or towns, but which also often include unincorporated rural areas. Townships, which do not exist in some States, may or may not contain municipalities and often consist of suburban or rural areas. Supplementing these forms of local government, special district government bodies are independent, limited purpose governmental units that usually perform a single function or activity. For example, a large percentage of special districts manage the use of natural resources. Some provide drainage and flood control, irrigation, and soil and water conservation services.
[ Excerpted from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition - State and Local Government ]