New Article and Paper on the State Public Workforce Losses in 2011

I have a new article at The Nation – For States That Went Red in 2010, Massive Public Sector Job Losses Came Next.  There’s also a very short research brief from Roosevelt Institute - The GOP’s State Project of Slashing the Public Workforce (pdf) - that provides some data background and additional charts. Both are co-written with the Roosevelt Institute’s very own Bryce Covert.  Turns out 12 states are responsible for over 70% of the state and local public sector job losses in 2011 – can you guess which ones?

Everyone has commented on the large number of state and local public sector job losses in 2011.  See Floyd Norris here, Paul Krugman here, Brian Beutler here, Matt Yglesias here, Jack Temple at Demos here, Calculated Risk here, etc.  Floyd Norris: “[G]overnment employment is down 2.6 percent over the last three years…State employment fell 1.2 percent in 2011 — the largest percentage for any year since counting began in 1955.”  There’s a lot of comparsion between Obama’s term and government employment increasing under President Reagan and George W. Bush.  Last year state and local public employment dropped 1.2%, or by about 265,000 jobs.  43% of those jobs were in the education sector.

I had two questions about this that I tried to answer in this article.  The first was where these state losses were occurring, and whether there was anything interesting going on with the distribution of lost jobs.

The second question was how the new Tea Party influenced Republican state legislatures, especially Republicans that took over 11 states in the historic 2010 midterm elections, were governing.  There’s two theories I saw.  The first could be called the “social issue truce” theory, based on a statement Mitch Daniels made.  As Dick Morris put it, “No longer do evangelical or social issues dominate the Republican ground troops. Now economic and fiscal issues prevail…It is one of the fundamental planks in the Tea Party platform that the movement does not concern itself with social issues.”  They aren’t interested in restricting voter restrictions or reproductive freedoms.  (A corollary theory is David Frum’s argument that “these new majorities will arrive with only slogans for a policy agenda.”  They won’t even know what to do as there aren’t independent conservative intellectuals to guide them.)

The second theory could be called the Corey Robin theory, which would argue conservatism is everywhere a “reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.”  In this theory, beyond just shredding the public sector in favor of the private, the movement would be compelled to combat challenges against the family that come from reproductive freedoms and threats to entrenched power that come from expanded democratic access.  They might, for instance, be more likely to pass bills restricting reproductive freedoms as well as voter suppression bills than non-GOP states in this theory, where under the “social issue truce” we wouldn’t see a difference.

I think we were able to get an empirical handle on both questions.  Hope you check it out!

From the beginning of the paper:

Key Findings

- There was a 1.2 percent decline in 2011 in the number of public employees, the largest yearly decline of the Obama presidency and one of the largest on record. Public employment declined 2.6percent the last three years, the highest on record. This has had a significant drag on the economy as a whole.

- Most of these losses were at the state level, but they weren’t spread out evenly across all states – the 2011 losses were concentrated in just 12. The 11 states that the Republicans took over during the 2010 midterm elections – Alabama, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – account for 40.5 percent of the total losses. By itself, Texas accounts for an additional 31 percent of the total losses. The remaining states make up the rest.

- The 11 states that the Republicans took over in 2010 laid off, on average, 2.5 percent of their government workforces in a single year. This is compared to the overall average of 0.5 percent for the rest of the states.

- In addition to the large losses in the public workforce, the 11 states that went Republican passed and enacted more reproductive freedom restrictions and voter suppression laws than states with mixed or Democratic legislatures. The push to target and lay off public employees fits in with more traditional conservative political policy priorities.

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5 Responses to New Article and Paper on the State Public Workforce Losses in 2011

  1. simondosovitz says:

    Something I think is important is to JUSTIFY public sector employment. Of course, we all appreciate cops, fireman, teachers etc. But seeing as their salaries come from transactions that are in some sense more voluntary as they occur in the private market, people see them in some instances (justifiably I think in many cases I have encountered) as give aways depending for their salaries on hard workers in worse conditions. What are the jobs that have been cut? Convince us that they are necessary!

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  3. “Of course, we all appreciate cops, fireman, teachers etc.” “Appreciate”? You think the work of these professionals is something your gratitude is supposed to be sufficient recompense? How in God’s name is it that you can erase the fact of the LABOR of these people, and follow this erasure by transforming their pay into a “giveaway”, provided at the sufferance of an emiserated public? Let us reverse the scenario: Is public sector WORK — labor provided by “cops, fireman, teachers”, which is enjoyed by the public that benefits from it — a “giveaway” to that public? Is a fire that has been put out, and the lives saved thereby, a “giveaway” by a firefighter to the public? If not, then how does PAY to these people by the public become a “giveaway” to these workers IF THEY HAVE TO LABOR (ie, WORK) FOR IT? Why is public support for public employees a burden to the public? How did that happen? Are cops and teachers and firefighters forced on a public that can ill afford the salaries of these professionals? Are you serious in that question; do you really need an argument to justify the continued existence of paid professionals that educate your kids, arrest burglars and rapists, and put out fires and save heart attack victims? Or is it the fact that these professionals are public sector workers that irks you?

    And what of this claim that the pay of these professionals is extracted from “hard workers in worse conditions”? If workers in the private market have it harder than those in the public sector (in terms of pay and other recompense, which is what I suspect you are referring to — unless you think that being a cop or firefighter is easier than some private sector job) then whose fault is that? What should be done about it? What if — go with me on this — what if private sector workers bothered to come together as labor and form unions and negotiate for themselves a better deal from their bosses than the ones they suffer under now? Is it the cop’s fault your boss pays you crap? The high school English teacher’s fault? You think firing THEM is the answer to the problems of those “hard workers in worse conditions”?

    If you think public sector labor is such a burden on you here is an idea: give them up. In exchange for not paying for them, they can let your house burn down, refuse to solve the crime against a loved one in your family, or bar your kid from the schoolhouse door George Wallace-style. You like that? You can have your tax dollars back — in exchange for getting NO public services. Use them in the “voluntary” private market and buy your own “cops, fireman, teachers etc.”

    The reason these professionals exist is because a decent society creates them to serve the public in recognition of the public interest. Individuals cannot do this work on their individual own; this kind of work must be a public good and funded at public expense. The so-called “private market” is motivated by the profit motive: how likely is it that an impoverished community will be able to foot the bill for a private police force, or a for-profit school? I cannot believe that this discussion is even necessary — but these are the times we live in.

    By the way — have you seen a cut in your tax bill due to the firing of public sector workers?

  4. Dr. Richard Beck says:

    A very well-stated argument, Don, and a necessary one. I believe that there is a nihilistic element to the actions and beliefs of the far right (which, now, is the entire Republicant party). Their beliefs, as we witnessed during the Bush administration, demonstrate that theirs is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When they are in charge of the executive branch, the government certainly is less-well run that during Democratic administrations. The fact that they are recklessly pushing destructive policies now seems to reveal a desparation mixed with optimism that with enough lies, they can overwhelm a President Obama whose bad fortune it was to be in office during the time of the economic downturn produced by Wall Street and the other players in the FIRE sector.

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