The Campaign Spot

Harry Reid’s Public-Sector Recession

Sen. Harry Reid today: “It’s very clear that private-sector jobs are doing just fine. It’s public-sector jobs where we’ve lost huge numbers.”

Er . . . no.

Most recent number of government employees at all levels, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 21,985,000.

Recent peak: 22,980,000, in May 2010.

So from the peak, probably fueled by Census hiring, to our recent “low” that so concerns Sen. Reid, is 995,000 jobs. The Census is estimated to create about 1 million temporary jobs, or by some estimates, 1.2 million jobs. In other words, while some government offices and agencies have undoubtedly laid off some workers, it has been offset by hiring elsewhere, except for the bump in government jobs created by the Census.

Number of government workers the month President Obama took office: 22,582,000.

Last time the number was around the current level of 21.9 million: July 2006.

The private sector, unsurprisingly, tells a different story.

Most recent total number of all private-sector employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 109,349,000 (preliminary September 2011 number).

Recent peak: 115,610,000, in January 2008. It hit 115 million in February 2007 and remained above that threshold until June 2008.

Recent low: 106,772,000 in February 2010. It went below 108 million in June 2009 and remained below that threshold until December 2010.

Range from the recent peak to the recent low: 8,817,000.

You may note that since February 2010, private-sector employment has increased by 2,577,000, and think, Oh, that’s not too bad! That’s about 1.28 million jobs per year! But the size of the labor pool normally grows from month to month, and while economists disagree on precisely how many jobs need to be added each month just to keep pace with the additional workers, it generally ranges from 100,000 per month (AP) to 100,000 to 125,000 (Heritage Foundation) to about 130,000 (New York Times). In other words, the economy needs to add 1.2 million to 1.56 million jobs per year just to keep the unemployment rate at the same level.

The best you could say is that private-sector job growth is almost good enough to keep pace with the growing size of the labor force. That seems like an extraordinarily low bar to set for “just fine.”

As for the public-sector layoffs, while any laid-off government worker’s experience is undoubtedly painful for that figure, there has been no real recession in the public sector, at least in terms of total jobs. For the entirety of the past 11 years, public-sector employment has ranged from 20.8 million to the peak of 22.9 million. Meanwhile, the private sector is still 6 million away from its peak, with little or no prospect of making up significant ground in the months, and perhaps years, to come.