NEW REPORT: Nonprofits—America’s third largest workforce

By on May 2, 2018

Employment in America’s nonprofit organizations continued to gain ground on other major industries in recent years according to a new report just issued by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.
Based on projections from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the new report, “Nonprofits: America’s Third Largest Workforce” reveals that as of 2015, America’s nonprofit sector:

  • Has the third largest workforce. The U.S. nonprofit workforce ranks third in size among the 18 major U.S. industries, behind only retail trade and manufacturing.
  • Outdistances manufacturing. In 24 states and DC, nonprofits actually employ more workers than all the branches of manufacturing combined.
  • Is a “major” industry in most states. Economists consider any industry that accounts for 5% of a country’s workforce to be a “major” industry. By this measure, the nonprofit sector is a major industry all but one of the nation’s states and District of Columbia. And in more than half of the states, the nonprofit sector accounts for more than 10% of private employment.
  • Is a major industry at the county level. Data available at the county level reveal that, by this same measure, nonprofits constitute a “major” industry in 1,459 (77%) out of the nearly 1,900 U.S. counties on which data are available. And in 856 (45%) of these counties, nonprofits account for 10% or more of the private workforce.
  • Is a diverse industry with a broad array of services. he health field—embracing hospitals, clinics, and home health services—accounts for 54% of all nonprofit employment, but nonprofits are active in a wide assortment of other fields as well, from education and social services to arts and culture.
  • Is a dynamic presence. Nonprofits continued to gain ground as employers between 2012 and 2015 on nine industries: manufacturing, wholesale trade, finance and insurance, and a collection of six smaller industries.

Nonprofit employment data now available online. Access to updated nonprofit employment data nationally and by state and county is now available online through Nonprofit Works, an interactive data base created by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.

Click here to download the full report.


Nonprofit Works: An Interactive Database on the Nonprofit Economy offers user-guided access to these new data, along with a rich array of additional data covering 1991-2015. Visit Nonprofit Works to learn more about the nonprofit sector in your state or county, and to explore the nonprofit employment data yourself.

Click here to access the Nonprofit Works Interactive Database


Chelsea Newhouse is the Communications Manager for the Center for Civil Society Studies and manages the Center's Nonprofit Economic Data and Philanthropication thru Privatization Projects and the Nonprofit Works Interactive Database. Prior to joining the Center in 2008, she worked for the Johns Hopkins University Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, the Baltimore Sun, and as a community organizer for Clean Water Action and the Democratic National Committee. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Virginia. Chelsea can be reached at