This may surprise “small government” conservative critics of President Obama, but under his watch more public sector jobs have been cut than in any comparable period over the past sixty years. The New York Times reports:
The December jobs figures out today indicate that there were 725,000 more jobs in the private sector than at the end of 2008 — and 697,000 fewer government jobs. That works into a private-sector gain of 0.6 percent, and a government sector decline of 3.1 percent.
How does that compare? It is by far the largest four-year decline in government employment since the 1944-48 term. That decline was caused by the end of World War II; this one was caused largely by budget limitations.
This decline didn’t happen, of course, because President Obama is a secret Tea Party sympathizer. What happened is that state and local government revenues collapsed and as the stimulus money ran out without a return to fast economic growth cash strapped governments had to cut back. The Great Pension Blunder is also having an effect; ballooning pension obligations as governments have to top up the pension funds past neglect and chicanery left underfunded reduces the amount cities and states have to hire workers now.
A fast recovery in public sector jobs doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. Pension costs will continue to cut into state and local government funds, and health care costs are likely to crimp the federal government’s ability to add new staff or to shore up local budgets.
Government jobs have traditionally been a stepping stone to the middle class, particularly for African Americans, as they were for Irish and Italian Americans before them. 20 percent of working African Americans are government workers, and the shrinking of government payrolls disproportionately burdens an already struggle African American middle class.
There is little prospect for the kind of spending that could turn this trend around. The middle class as a whole isn’t prepared to be taxed for the level of services that blue politicians would like to provide, and, as France is now learning, there’s only so much that can be achieved by soaking the rich. Government employment is unlikely to regain its peak level quickly, and while Via Meadia doesn’t think we should be passing the hat to get laid off bureaucrats back to their desks, the social consequences of this shift are real, and need to be thought through.