The District of Columbia has an average number of city employes when compared with seven similar American cities -- not the bloated government payroll that critics frequently have claimed, according to a new U.S. Cenus Bureau study released yesterday by Mayor Marion Barry.

For years, some members of Congress have contended that the District has a disproportionately high number of city workers per capita, and have used that assertion as a justification for trimming the city's budget and forcing employe reductions.

The study released yesterday -- which was requested and paid for by the D.C. government -- supports the city government's longstanding claim that the District is unique because it must provide city, county and state-level services.

Researchers found that when that fact is taken into account, the District comes out about average in the number of government workers per capita.

Washington ranked fourth in the study, with fewer public employes than Newark, Baltimore or Atlanta but more than St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit or Philadelphia.

"This is the first objective examination ever made of District government employment levels," Barry said of the study, for which the city paid $7,300. "Claims have been made in the past about the size of the District's work force without adequate date, and the District has been denied adequate funding on that basis. This study replaces myth with facts."

Edward M. Meyers, deputy director of the D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue and one of those who proposed the study, said the city government hopes to use the data to counter a widespread perception that the District government has too many workers.

However, a key staff member of one of the congressional committees said yesterday that although the study will give the city more ammunition, it probably will not change the minds of persistent critics on Capitol Hill.

"A couple of years ago, the city was reducing the number of people providing services but increasing the number of administrators," the staff member said.

"We saw some figures once that showed the District had more workers per capita than entire states. I don't think this will change the minds of people who feel that way."

The survey, based on data from 1979, found that the District had about 691 full-time employes per 10,000 city residents, very near the average of nearly 687 for the eight cities. The comparable figure for Newark, the city with the most government workers, was about 931, while Philadelphia, with 475, was lowest.

At the time the study was undertaken, the city had 44,104 employes -- a number that included those employed through federal grants. Since that time, Barry has imposed several temporary hiring freezes and laid off hundreds of workers, reducing the city work force to about 40,000 the following year, according to the report. About three-fourths of those persons are paid through city appropriations.

In preparing the study, the Census Bureau attempted to allocate to each of the other cities an appropriate number of additional workers to account for the state and county functions provided by the D.C. government. These include higher education, public assistance, hospitals and health, corrections, highways and urban renewal.

For example, the study allocated 85 percent of the employes of the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority to Atlanta because that percentage of the number of patients in the hospitals run by the seperate authority live in Atlanta.

To arrive at Baltimore's adjusted total of 62,908 employes, 19,868 Maryland employes -- judged to be the number required to perform the state functions for Baltimore residents that the District has to provide for its citizens -- were added to the 41,877 employes who work strictly for the city of Baltimore.

Of those 19,868 workers added to the Baltimore payroll for the purposes of the study, the largest chunk -- 5,301 -- are state hospital workers. Another 2,707 are state welfare workers. In Washington, those hospital and welfare functions are performed by D.C. government workers.

In most cases, the number of Maryland state workers added to Baltimore's total reflected the proportion of Baltimore residents among the state's general population.

The study showed significant differences among the various cities in the adjusted number of employes performing specific functions.

For example, the District has far more police officers per 10,000 residents -- 63 -- than any of the other cities. Atlanta is lowest with 31. Jon the other hand, the District has the fewest employes engaged in financial management -- 9 workers per 10,000 residents, as compared with 17 in Baltimore, the city with the most money managers.

The District has more health workers than the other cities, and more garbage collectors and street sweepers. But it is low in highway and water supply workers, and near the average in most other categories such as libraries, housing and urban renewal, sewage and schools.