Politics & Policy

Is the Public Sector Hurting?

In fact, government workers have been the safest of all.

‘It’s very clear that private-sector jobs have been doing just fine; it’s the public-sector jobs where we’ve lost huge numbers, and that’s what this legislation is all about,” Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid claimed last week. Senator Reid is simply wrong: The private sector has suffered from much deeper job cuts than public-sector workers have faced.

Obviously, Americans are hurting, with some 7 million losing their jobs since the start of the recession. And that doesn’t include the 7.2 million people who should have entered the work force over the same time period. But the pain hasn’t been in the public sector.

The only group of workers who are “doing just fine” are those working for the federal government, where employment has increased by 11 percent since the start of the recession. Both private-sector and state- and local-government employment have fallen. While private-sector employment has recovered slightly from 7.5 percent drop it originally suffered, it is still down 5.4 percent.

The drop in state- and local-government workers may be what concerns Senator Reid, but in percentage terms, it is only about a third the size of the drop in private-sector employment over the same time (5.4 versus 1.8 percent). Adding together all levels of government, employment has fallen by just over 1 percent. Governments, which have piled up huge debts, have also avoided the sharp swings in employment faced in the private sector.

Reid wants to have a giant $450 billion tax increase over the next ten years to pay for his “stimulus” for public-sector workers, but it is the private sector, which is hurting the most by far, that is going to pay for his additional grant to public-sector workers. Massive subsidies have already been directed to public-sector union workers in the five previous “stimulus” programs passed during Obama’s first two years in office. Those transfers have protected public-sector workers from the cuts that private-sector workers have had to bear, and the money also guaranteed pay increases for teachers’ unions that private-sector workers surely haven’t seen.

The Obama administration no longer even uses the discredited term “jobs saved or created” to describe the help that they are giving. Now they are using only the very vague term “jobs supported.” Is it worth private-sector workers’ paying $87,500 per government worker to temporarily “support” the latter’s jobs? Just this week, Americans learned that D.C. is now the richest metro area in the country; federal-employee compensation averages more than $126,000.

With U.S. income falling almost 7 percent since the recession “officially” ended in June 2009, Sen. Harry Reid and other Democrats would do well to realize that a sixth stimulus and their solution of always giving more money to public-sector unions or other targeted special interests isn’t working.

John R. Lott Jr. is a FOXNews.com contributor. He is an economist and author of Freedomnomics.


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