Monday, July 16, 2018

Prison system is Texas' third fifth largest employer

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is the state's third fifth largest employer, according to Grits' calculations.

I began to investigate that ranking after seeing an article from US News and World Report titled, titled, "Can the Rural Prison Economy Survive the Decarceration Era?" According to that story, the Department of Corrections in Pennsylvania is the 15th largest employer in that state. How does that compare to Texas, I wondered?

TDCJ employs more than 37,000 people at any given juncture. How does that compare to other large, Texan employers?

There doesn't appear to be an official government listing of each state's largest employers, and I couldn't find specific data either from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Texas Workforce Commission. (Let me know in the comments if you're aware of better sources.) Googling around, however, I found several unofficial lists purporting to identify Texas' largest employers. See here, here, and here. None of these included the prison system in their lists. That's a mistake.

Two of those sources listed two entities - the Texas A&M University System (50k) and Shell Deepwater Development (44k) - as having more employees than the Texas prison system, followed closely by the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston (35k). This source added the DFW International Airport at the top of the list, at 60k employees.

So depending on whether we include the DFW Airport, TDCJ is the third or fourth largest employer in Texas. Grits would tend not to include the airport. Apparently, the 60k figure is for all employers; only 1,900 of them are employed by the airport proper.

In that light, I'd call TDCJ Texas' third largest employer. HOWEVER: A commenter pointed out that Walmart and HEB both employ more than any of those entities, which would make TDCJ the fifth largest. See the correction below and the comments.

If the state corrections agency is the 15th largest employer in PA and the third fifth largest in Texas, that tells you the penal system here is a much more significant part of the economy.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about four out of every 1,000 jobs in Texas are correctional officers in prisons and jails, totaling about 48,600 statewide.

CORRECTION: A commenter pointed out that Walmart (171k) and HEB (90k) both have more employees than those listed, which would make the prison system the fifth largest employer in the state. Again, if anyone has a better list than the sources above, let me know in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Grits, how are you making this calculation given Walmart employs over 117k employees in Texas alone, HEB comes in with well over 100k, and there are other examples but even the city of Houston employs something like 25k people and that doesn't include employees kept off books in side accounts?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Again, there is no standard list of top employers in the state - I googled the topic and gave you the links to my (probably incomplete) sources.

Add in HEB and Walmart, TDCJ would be 5th. If Houston employs 25k, that's less than the prison system.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I agree with both of you but if these lists that were linked in the article didn't include cities or private sector employers, who's to say what else they did not include?

Anonymous said...

Look carefully---some studies don't include parole and probation employees. Let's not forget the private prisons of corporate America and their related employees-----food preparation, truck drivers, administration.

Beth Macknik said...

AT&T’s website claims 38,000 Texas employees.

But this is an inaccurate way to compare the economic impact. Here’s a better way:

Penn. Dept of Corrections employs 16,000. BLS says there are 6.1 million people in the Penn. workforce. So statewide it constitutes 0.26% of the workforce.

TDJC employs 37,000 in a workforce of 13.8 million. That’s also 0.26% of the workforce.

That article correctly points out the disparate rural impact. But with these numbers we can probably assume similar impacts in TX and PA.