Government payrolls have grown so fast in the past generation that 17 out of every 100 civilian workers in this country are now employed by federal, state or local governments, according to a Census Bureau report released yesterday.

In 1950, the figure was 11 out of 100.

The bureau reported that public employment had resumed its growth last year after a sharp mid-recession slowdown. It rose by 394,000 to a total of 15.4 million.

Local and state governments, spurred by federal grants for a wide range of programs, accounted for virtually all the growth (389,000) and had 12,588,000 employes in October 1977 when the Census Bureau survey was taken. Federal employment, by contrast, rose only 5,000 to 2,848,000.

One of the trends in U.S. government in recent times has been the explosive growth of state and local governments, fueled by federal grants and the demand for more and more services.

In 1950, when the U.S. population was about 150 million, total civilian government employment was 6.4 million, of which 4.3 million was state and local. By 1977 the population had increased by less than half to 216.8 million, but government civilian employment leaped to 15.4 million. Of that, about 12.6 million was state and local. The growth reflects a far wider range of public services, in areas like education, health, welfare.

State and local employment grew most rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s and has been slowing down in the past few years. For the past few years, public employment at all levels including federal has been growing at about the same rate as overall employment in the United States and has been providing 17 percent of all jobs in the economy.

More than half of all the jobs in state and local government are in schools, including institutions of higher education. Even though the number of students in public schools has been declining for three years, the educational establishment has continued to grow and reached 6.5 million in 1977.

Census and Department of Health, Education and Welfare officials said the growth is partly the result of special programs for the handicapped and educationally deprived and of new computer and audio-visual materials being put into use. But one official added wryly, "It's always difficult to retrench when it comes to staff."

The second largest group of local and state employes is in health care (1,255 million), followed by police (628,000), and highway and personnel (587,000). The figures show that county government payrolls are growing far faster than city payrolls, as more people move to the suburbs and create demands for new services there.