I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what’s true and what’s not. Much about the work I’ve been doing for the past 30-plus years is arguable. Is the town better or worse for investing in one thing over another? People on opposing sides of an argument can make a case to support a variety of different conclusions. Some things, however, are objectively true; and some are not.
Despite a drumbeat of criticism from a few individuals over how difficult it is to build, do business, or live in Albany, more people keep moving here. Albany has grown steadily over the last decade, with population increasing from about 48,000 in 2005 to more than 52,000 in 2016. Subdivisions, apartment buildings, individual homes, and senior living facilities have all been constructed over the past few years; and the rate currently seems to be increasing. Albany’s growth may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on an individual’s point of view, but it is also an undeniable fact.
Growth in population has been accompanied by growth in investment and value. Even when accounting for the most significant recession of my lifetime, property values today are significantly higher than they were a decade ago. It makes sense that as more people choose to live here, the value of our property will continue to increase. Albany’s growth has also meant more visitors (or at least more money from visitors) as transient lodging tax receipts have increased dramatically over the past three years.
The size of city government has declined over the past several years. Some people complain about how government always grows, but Albany now has fewer employees than we did in 2008. Our ratio of employees to residents is lower than it has been during the past dozen years or longer. Again, a strong argument can be made that smaller government during a time of population growth is not a positive trend if you value City services, but the actual number of employees is not subject to debate.
Most people seem to believe that the number of government employees and the size of government have grown explosively in recent times. The actual numbers do not support this belief, either in Albany or the nation as a whole. There were about 4.2 million federal government employees in 2014 as compared to 5.35 million in 1962. The federal workforce grew to much larger levels during the Vietnam War (more than 6.6 million) and has declined fairly steadily since. Even considering the growth in state workers, the overall percentage of government workers has been on a downward trend for decades. According to Business Insider in 2015, “Government employment since the 1970s has grown at a slower rate than employment overall, causing the proportion of government employees among total employees to remain on a mostly downward trend over the last 30 years. As of December, about 15.6% of all employees worked for the government. The last time the percentage was lower than its current level was in August 1960.”
My hope for the New Year is that I will pay more attention to fact and less to opinion. A quotation I’ve often heard attributed to various people summarizes the issue nicely regardless of who said it: “It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.” Much of what we hear and see today just ain’t so; and given our easy access to reliable information, I believe we have a greater obligation to figure out the truth than we have been exercising.