Quantcast

War Against Government Workers Is Prolonging the Recession | The Nation

  •  
Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

War Against Government Workers Is Prolonging the Recession

The US economy gained 104,000 private sector jobs last month, but lost 24,000 public sector jobs, resulting in a net total of 80,000 new jobs—fewer than expected and well below what the country needs to get out of the Great Recession.

This is by now a depressingly familiar story. In the past year, 1.6 million private sector jobs have been created. But since the recession began in December 2007, more than 500,000 public sector jobs have been lost. Half of those jobs have disappeared since January 2011, after Republicans (who ran on improving the economy in 2010) took control of the House of Representatives. States have cut 49,000 jobs and localities have cut 210,000 jobs since the beginning of the year. Contrary to what Republicans might tell you, these are “real” jobs lost by real people, who pay taxes, spend money, provide for their families and perform vital public services. When they suffer, the economy suffers too.

“This is the worst time to push government workers into the ranks of the unemployed,” notes blogger Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute. “With slack capacity, a high number of unemployed people, and negative real interest rates, we can’t afford a war against government workers.”

Yet this war against government workers has been going on for quite some time. Conservatives have long tried to “starve the beast” of government and have actively demonized public employees for decades. Yet the real job losses for public sector employees accelerated in 2010, when President Obama, in a nod to conservative orthodoxy, declared a three-year freeze on nondefense discretionary spending and a freeze on federal pay, and did not renew badly needed aid for state and local governments after the stimulus ran its course.

After the 2010 election, the Bowles-Simpson commission recommended cutting an additional 10 percent of the federal workforce, which would have resulted in 200,000 more lost jobs, even though federal jobs are at their lowest per capital level since 1962. By that time, Republicans were actively rooting for public sector job losses. “If some of those jobs are lost, so be it,” John Boehner said in February 2011. “We’re broke.” Yet somehow Republicans found the money to propose massive tax cuts for the richest corporations and wealthiest Americans.

Just last month, Republicans in Congress blocked a section of Obama’s jobs plan that would have prevented 400,000 teachers, firefighters and cops from losing their jobs through aid to state and local governments, which is among the most effective forms of stimulus. “Federal aid to strapped state and local governments also is providing significant economic benefits, lessening their need to slash programs and jobs or to hike taxes and fees,” wrote Mark Zandi of Moody’s in July 2010. Had it not been for austerity policies, wrote David Leonhardt of the New York Times, state and local governments would have added half a million jobs, rather than cutting them. “In other words, the state and local austerity of the last two years has cost the economy about one million jobs,” Leonhardt writes.

Saving a million jobs isn’t enough to lift the economy out of the recession, but it would certainly improve the bleak economic situation. And any politician who professes to care about creating jobs but argues that government jobs aren’t “real,” and don’t count, is a heartless hypocrite.

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.