According to The Economist (May 13th, 2017, print edition, webpage),
America has more tax preparers—over 1m, according to a project at George Washington University—than it has police and firefighters combined.
Is this true?
True, almost true, or false, depending on sources and interpretation.
Depending on sources, the number of professional firefighters + law enforcement officers is either the same or slightly smaller than the number of professional tax preparers. However, if we include part-time or amateur firefighters, the claim is false.
From Face the Facts USA, A Project of the George Washington University, comes the claim with sources (see below). Evidently, they define tax preparers as those who make a living helping taxpayers deciphering US tax code. Likewise, the number only considers professional firefighters.
Note that this is not peer-reviewed research, but rather has the nature of a blog, even though it's run by a university, it should be considered with some care. However, all the numbers are directly sourced to the U.S. Federal Government.
Up to 1.2 million tax preparers make a living deciphering the labyrinth U.S. tax code for taxpayers. We have more professional tax preparers in the United States than law enforcement officers (765,000) and professional firefighters (310,400) combined.
However, FEMA give a higher estimate of firefighters:
- Registered fire departments are staffed by approximately 1,217,000 personnel. This includes career, volunteer and paid per call firefighters as well as civilian staff and nonfirefighting personnel.
- There were a total of 1,065,700 active career, volunteer and paid per call firefighters representing nearly 88 percent of the registered departments' personnel.
- Of the active firefighting personnel, 33 percent were career firefighters, 55 percent were volunteer firefighters, and 12 percent were paid per call firefighters.
…this would put the total number of active career firefighters at 0.33*1,065,700 = 351,860. Adding this number to the number of law enforcement officers puts law enforcement + firefighters at the same level.
I don't think the number of amateur tax preparers can be reasonably defined, let alone accurately measured.
In conclusion, depending on what federal agency one sources information to, the number of professional firefighters + law enforcement officers is either the same as the number of professional tax preparers, or it may be slightly smaller.
As per the statistics that @gerrit cited, the statement as listed is untrue. There are almost as many firefighters alone as tax preparers.
There is a true way of stating it. If we explicitly limit to just full time paid fire fighters and law enforcement professionals, then there are more tax preparers. However, this is a fundamentally unfair way of counting. If we are going to limit fire fighters to just the full time paid members, we should also limit the tax preparers in the same way. Many tax preparers are themselves part time. They work just for the few months after W-2 and 1099 forms are issued and before 1040 forms are due.
If we limited just to professional, full-time tax preparers, there are only about 70,000 as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To get the larger number, we have to include seasonal tax-preparers and accountants/auditors who fill out tax returns. So there are fewer career tax preparers than there are career fire fighters or law enforcement professionals separately, much less added together.
Regardless, the Economist's formulation is incorrect. As written, the statement would include volunteer firefighters and paid-per-call firefighters. But including them means that there are about as many firefighters alone as tax preparers, even including seasonal workers and people whose profession is listed as accountant or auditor.