It seems to be conventional wisdom in American politics these days that the public sector should be cut in bad economic times. And that more private sector employment is good, but more public sector employment is bad. This is wrong. Public sector employment is better for the economy than private sector employment in bad times. Why? In a nutshell it is because public sector jobs provide services to people who need them in a bad economy while also providing people with … jobs.
How exactly does laying-off public sector workers help the economy? Republicans seem to equate public sector layoffs with private sector hires - that is, they are of equal economic value. (And, frankly, most Democrats do not challenge this assumption in any meaningful way.) The focus is kept on the cost of public sector workers, as if they are on the dole. But, public sector employees are workers and they have families to support. On top of that, they provide essential public services to, among other things, private sector workers who have been laid off and need support. Also, all workers are taxpayers, not just those in the private sector. There is not one public sector worker that I am aware of who is exempt from local, state, and federal taxes. (In fact, even those on unemployment insurance pay income taxes on the benefits and sales taxes on purchases made with the benefits.)
So, what do we get from laying off public sector workers?
These public sector workers are teachers, mental health workers, social workers, public works, firefighters, police, parole officers - to name just a few. If you think these folks are just hacks, then you must be able to afford private security, private fire protection, private schools, private health care options and generally choose to refuse to engage with the rest of society in any meaningful way (and stay off our roads - those are paid for and maintained by the public sector!). But for the rest of us, here are the costs associated with laying off public sector workers. First, these workers cannot support their families anymore. They will need to collect unemployment benefits. This is a cost. They may need subsidized health care. Another cost. They may suffer mental health problems associated with long-term unemployment. Another cost. They may get into fights with their family members as a result of the stress and the police are called to intervene. Another cost. Second, these workers will not be there to help anyone. So, the laid off worker won't be able to find subsidized health care; won't be able to deal with mental health issues; won't be able to find job counselors to help with unemployment. And the cops might not be able to intervene in domestic problems because they are stretched too thin from the own lay-offs and the increased demand on them.
The costs are not borne by laid off public workers. They are borne by everyone. Who benefits from this vicious cycle? Rich people who don't want to pay their fair share for civilization. That's who. There is no budget problem in this country. There is a revenue shortfall that is DIRECTLY related to reducing the share of responsibility the very richest people in this country have for anyone else. And it is not altruism that should guide them. It is in the best interests of the rich to have a large and stable middle class that is invested in the system. The public sector is an essential component to creating and maintaining such a middle class. Don't think so? Then you don't know the difference between periodic tough times for some people and large-scale permanent layoffs for hundreds of thousands of families.
Think job loss in the public sector is not hurting the economy? Let’s take a look at the numbers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 13,000 local and state government workers have been laid off each month for the past three months – and that excludes public education! That is about 40,000 lay-offs since March, not even taking into account teachers who have been fired. More local and state government workers have been laid off on average over the past three months than any other category. Although the job loss among federal workers (except the postal service) is just under 1,000 per month over the same period, over 10,000 federal workers were fired in June. In fact, if one does not include the public sector job loss over the past several months, the economy has gained quite a few jobs. True, it is not as much as we would like to lower unemployment. However, unemployment WILL NOT DROP with thousands of public sector workers being laid off each month. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot increase employment by laying off people. And you provide more public services to people in need when you decimate the staffs that are providing those services. This is not rocket science.
Originally published by this author at The Big Idea