Posts Tagged: government jobs

Illinois unemployment ‘falls’

In all the state’s major newspapers and blogs today is the story that state unemployment dipped from 11.7 percent in April to 10.8 percent May. But the good news is fleeting — Illinois unemployment fell because temporary employees were hired to conduct the ten-year census, not because new permanent jobs were created. (more…)

Federal Government Hiring Can’t Keep Pace With Recession

The Wall Street Journal’s Sara Murray reports that if you need a job you should think about becoming a civil servant…maybe. While the private sector is still in recession/layoff mode, the federal government needs to hire 241,000 employees over the next three years (this isn’t because Barack Obama is expanding the size of government, but baby boomer retirements). But the government’s supply of jobs and application process is not meeting the demands of a heavily unemployed or under-employed labor force:

But a dearth of jobs isn’t the government’s problem. It’s finding a quick and fair way to wade through the resumes. In the past six months, each job posting (which may actually be multiple jobs, such as the same job in various locations) on USAJobs drew about 170 applications — up from about 25 in 2007.

Murray’s piece focuses on how the federal government can more swiftly go through the application and hiring process. That’s an important issue, but a more significant and controversial subject is if the federal government should expands its workforce. Roads need to be repaired, consumer products need to be inspected, bodies of water and parks need to be cleaned up.  Yet there doesn’t seem much appetite for more of the federal budget to go toward direct job creation. Even the debate over extending the stimulus bill to help the unemployed is about the unemployed continuing to collect benefits and get health care — not about giving people jobs.

A Bear Market For Public School Teachers

Paul Krugman makes a pretty fresh point in his column today about the latest unemployment numbers:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States economy lost 273,000 jobs last month. Of those lost jobs, 29,000 were in state and local education, bringing the total losses in that category over the past five months to 143,000. That may not sound like much, but education is one of those areas that should, and normally does, keep growing even during a recession. Markets may be troubled, but that’s no reason to stop teaching our children. Yet that’s exactly what we’re doing.

There’s no mystery about what’s going on: education is mainly the responsibility of state and local governments, which are in dire fiscal straits. Adequate federal aid could have made a big difference. But while some aid has been provided, it has made up only a fraction of the shortfall. In part, that’s because back in February centrist senators insisted on stripping much of that aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the stimulus bill.

Government jobs are down across the board. As Krugman alludes to, this is not because of a lack of consumer demand for teachers. (or police officers or health care workers). It’s because the stimulus bill was so weak that new hires in the federal workforce — thanks to increased national spending and decreased taxes — are more than offset by layoffs by state governments -that must balance their budget and therefore decrease spending and increase taxes. This fundamental inconsistency between state and federal governments has exacerbated the problem of unemployment continuing to rise even as the economy recovers.

New Ways to Stimulate

The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes adds to the articles about the Obama administration and Congress considering an expansion of elements in the stimulus package, due to ever-rising unemployment. The programs that Calmes reports will be expanded are varied — there is extending unemployment benefits and the COBRA program, which provides health care to the recently laid off, both programs that expire Dec. 31. But then they are the “tax credit” plans — a tax credit to first-time purchasers of homes and a tax credit to businesses who hire new workers or don’t lay off current ones.

What’s missing from this discussion is any new government programs that more directly help the unemployed. Extending unemployment benefits and COBRA, of course, directly helps the unemployed. But these tax credits seem a limp, and easily exploited, way to nudge consumers and businesses to more stimulating behavior. I’d like a push for more civil servant and public goods projects — or at least a move to recall some of the teachers and health workers state governments were forced to lay off. The government should be one job market more able to respond to a recession, yet 53,000 government jobs were shed just last month.

It’s politically risky to push for such an expansion of government. But the NYT piece implies that what’s riskiest for Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress is to maintain the status quo and see unemployment continue to rise well into next year. Maybe in the case of fighting unemployment, helping people who need it most can also be good politics.


The New York Times’ Michael Cooper picks up on a Rockefeller Institute study that while the private sector cut seven million jobs since December 2007 — the official start of the recession — state and local governments have added 11,000 jobs. But this stat is misleading: all the government job growth happened between December 2007 and August 2008, when a net 165,000 state and local government jobs were added nationally. There was, in fact, a net loss of 55,000 state and local government jobs in the past year.

You might expect more public sector jobs in this recession — there is a demand for workers who can helped strained unemployment claims offices or work on stimulus projects like home weatherization and construction. But that hasn’t happened in the last year and won’t happen in the next one as states must lay off or furlough employees to balance their budgets. The real story is at a time when citizens have a need for increased state and local government services, state and local governments have decreased their capacity.-MB