Unemployment Slamming Public Employees

The latest job reports show that public employees, those favorite targets of Republicans and other government budget slashers, are being hit particularly hard by the country's severe unemployment problems.

As the New York Times reported, 20,000 government workers were laid off in November alone, most of them state, county and city employees.

The public workers' unemployment numbers have been steadily increasing for the past several years, at the same time that the jobless figures for workers in private employment actually have been decreasing.

In fact, private employers have been adding jobs since the end of 2009, a year after the beginning of the Great Recession. More than a half-million government jobs have been lost since the recession began.

The Times noted that in most cases, the layoffs were made because of declining tax revenues, or reduced federal aid “because of Washington's inexplicable decision to focus more on the deficit in the near term than on jobs.”

The layoffs mean “a lower quality of life . . . fewer teachers, pothole repair crews and nurses.” It's been happening all over the country, of course. The Times cited as a typical example what's been happening in the Indiana city of Marion, population 30,000.

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Marion city officials recently announced what they called a “radical reorganization” of city services that will mean laying off 15 of the city's 58 police officers and 12 of its 50 firefighters. Radical, indeed. That's more than 25 percent of Marion's police and firefighters.

As elsewhere, the layoffs of course reduce vital public services, but it's important to note that they also of course have a serious impact on those who lose their jobs. The impact has been especially harsh on African- American workers.

The Times' Timothy Williams reported that one-fifth of the nation's millions of black workers “have entered the middle class through government employment” and tend to make 25 percent more than other African-American workers. But now tens of thousands are being forced to leave both their jobs and the middle class.

The Times cited as a prime example the city of Chicago, which is scheduled to lay off more than 200 employees in the next fiscal year, two-thirds of them African-Americans.

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that the African-American jobless rate has risen to more than 15 percent nationwide, almost double the rate for other workers.

As the Times said, the effect has been severe – “destabilizing black neighborhoods and making it harder for young people to replicate their parents' climb up the economic ladder.” Their rise was made largely by the government jobs that they're now losing without much hope of finding other jobs, given the current tattered state of the economy and continued job discrimination against African-American workers generally.

It certainly would be hard to disagree with the Times' conclusion that much of the public job losses and consequent cutbacks in public services stem from the fact that many Republicans “don't regard government jobs as actual jobs, and are eager to see them disappear. Republican governors around the Midwest have aggressively tried to break the power of public unions while slashing their workforces, and Congressional Republicans have proposed paying for a payroll tax cut by reducing federal employment rolls by 10 percent through attrition.”

That 10 percent, the Times pointed out, is 200,000 jobs. And, surprise! Many of those jobs “would be filled by blacks and Hispanics and others who tend to vote Democratic.” So, said the Times, those workers “are considered politically superfluous” by the GOP.

But, the Times concluded, “every layoff, whether public or private, is a life, and a livelihood, and a family. And too many of them are getting battered by the economic storm.”

Copyright © 2011 Dick Meister