Last month, governments across the US shed another 14,000 jobs. That continues a downsizing trend that’s been underway for a long time, accelerating during the Great Recession.
Local, state and Federal agencies have laid off hundreds of thousands of teachers, cops, firemen, counselors, prison guards. Here in New York state, the impact has been profound. This from the Ithaca Journal.
Government jobs have long been a stable and secure career for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.
But between December 2009 and December 2010, the federal, state and local governments shed 34,700 jobs — more than any other sector in New York.
That’s in one year. And my guess is that we’re just warming up, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatening as many as 10,000 state-level lay-offs next year.
Combine that with the teacher and local government lay-offs that will be triggered by his austerity budget — which cuts pass-through grants sharply — we could easily see another 30,000-40,000 public sector workers go.
If Albany approves a property tax cap, that will curtail funding for schools and local governments even further, almost certainly triggering even deeper reductions.
A generation ago, the impact of this transformation wouldn’t have been so profound. We had a broad-based middle class in America, with relatively small gaps between the haves and have-nots.
But these days, public-sector jobs are one of the last bastions of economic security, especially for minorities, for people in rural areas like the North Country, and people with lower levels of education.
When you factor in the economic vitality sparked by those jobs, the impact is profound.
Obviously, the best case scenario is that we transition in an orderly way from taxpayer-dependent jobs in the public sector to tax-revenue generating jobs in the private sector.
But the reality of America’s modern economy is that many of these government workers will be entering a brutal job market.
Even if they find work, the jobs are likely to be more demanding, with longer hours, lower pay, and fewer benefits, than the world they left behind.
I’m also guessing that we’ve seen the end of the era when government jobs are compensated so generously. State workers in the North Country earn, on average, $20,000 a year more than workers in the private sector.
I don’t know anyone who thinks that is fair, or sustainable.
But in many ways, this change in New York’s economy is every bit as challenging as the collapse of Michigan’s automobile industry, or the decline of manufacturing in Ohio.
All those government jobs created the illusion of solid, stable prosperity. Now, somehow, we have to struggle toward the real thing.