October 11, 2012
An Associated Press article dated October 9 states that Venezuela has
“ at least 2.4 million national government employees, making up 8 percent of the country’s population. By comparison, the United States, with tenfold the population, has almost the same number of federal employees, at 2.7 million.”
If Venezuela really had 10 times as many public employees as the U.S., relative to its labor force, this would be amazing. However it is not true.
Venezuela actually has, according to the latest statistics, 2.49 million public employees – including all levels of government. With a labor force of about 13.5 million, this is about 18.4 percent of the labor force. (Labor force is a better denominator than total population because of different demographics between countries).
The U.S. as of September 2012 had 22 million public employees, or 14.2 percent of the labor force. Thus the difference in public employment between Venezuela and the U.S. is therefore about 4 percentage points.
One reason for the AP’s misleading comparison is that it does not take into account that most public employees in the U.S. (19.2 million of 22 million) are employed at the state and local level. In most other countries, including Venezuela, the reverse is true.
Of course the U.S. has a relatively low level of public employment compared to other high-income countries. France, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway all have public sector employment percentages in the 20s, with France at 22 percent and Norway at 29 percent.
In this article, the author is using Venezuela’s public employment to argue that Chávez had a big advantage over his opponent in the recent election. However this is not clear. Most of the wealth and income of the country still belongs to people who oppose the government, and several studies show that the majority of the media (pdf) was biased in favor of Capriles. Whether Chávez’s speeches on television could compensate for this overall media bias against him is not at all clear.
Political scientist Justin Delacour, who has studied media coverage of Venezuela for many years, argues that this article shows a considerable double standard on the part of AP. He writes: “I cannot recall one time in all my years of reading AP reports that these sorts of electoral advantages have ever been discussed by your newswire. It is only when a left-wing party acquires significant PR resources that your newswire is suddenly so concerned about fairness on the PR front in a country’s electoral process.” He notes that most media in Latin America are biased in favor of right-wing or center-right parties, but that has not been an issue in AP reporting.