Monday, December 12, 2011

Pain in the Public Sector

Another NYT editorial that highlights how black workers are disproportionately impacted by cutbacks in the public sector (see the sentences I've highlighted below):    


NYT editorial, December 4, 2011

Pain in the Public Sector

Buried in the relatively positive numbers contained in the November jobs report was some very bad news for those who work in the public sector. There were 20,000 government workers laid off last month, by far the largest drop for any sector of the economy, mostly from states, counties and cities.

That continues a troubling trend that's been building for years, one that has had a particularly harsh effect on black workers. While the private sector has been adding jobs since the end of 2009, more than half a million government positions have been lost since the recession.

In most cases, states and cities had to lay off workers because of declining tax revenues, or reduced federal aid because of Washington's inexplicable decision to focus more on the deficit in the near term than on jobs.

Those layoffs mean a lower quality of life when there are fewer teachers, pothole repair crews and nurses. On Thursday, a deteriorating budget situation prompted what officials in Marion, Ind., called a "radical reorganization" of city services, which will result in the layoffs of 15 police officers (out of 58) and 12 firefighters (out of 50).

The cutbacks hurt more than just services. As Timothy Williams of The Times reported last week, they hit black workers particularly hard. Millions of African-Americans — one in five who are employed — have entered the middle class through government employment, and they tend to make 25 percent more than other black workers. Now tens of thousands are leaving both their jobs and the middle class. Chicago, for example, is laying off 212 employees in the upcoming fiscal year, two-thirds of whom are black.

That's one reason the black unemployment rate went up last month, to 15.5 percent from 15.1. The effect is severe, destabilizing black neighborhoods and making it harder for young people to replicate their parents' climb up the economic ladder. "The reliance on these jobs has provided African-Americans a path upward," said Robert Zieger, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Florida. "But it is also a vulnerability."

Many Republicans, however, don't regard government jobs as actual jobs, and are eager to see them disappear. Republican governors around the Midwest have aggressively tried to break the power of public unions while slashing their work forces, and Congressional Republicans have proposed paying for a payroll tax cut by reducing federal employment rolls by 10 percent through attrition. That's 200,000 jobs, many of which would be filled by blacks and Hispanics and others who tend to vote Democratic, and thus are considered politically superfluous.

But every layoff, whether public or private, is a life, and a livelihood, and a family. And too many of them are getting battered by the economic storm.

This is an ENORMOUS (though often unspoken) issue in ed reform: the school system is the largest employer in many cities and the stable, middle-class jobs with good benefits schools provide have been an avenue to the middle class for countless people, disproportionately blacks.  I have more data on this on pages 175-179 in my school reform presentation (  Here's an excerpt from page 179, a quote from the book, The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education ( 


The politics of jobs can be – and often is – an impediment to systemic school reform, but the power of education professionals rests on more than the votes and campaign contributions they can muster from within their own ranks. African-American educators in black-led cities share perceptual, ideological, and communal bonds with elected officials, parents, and other important community actors, including the black churches that play a pivotal role in shaping the political life in many inner-city areas. These bonds help to account for the fact that community mobilization around school issues often takes the shape of protecting jobs and their incumbents instead of demanding higher levels of performance and structural change.


This is an issue that reformers need to be very aware of and sensitive to.  It helps explain a lot of otherwise inexplicable actions – and it's one of the reasons we created Democrats for Education Reform.  When Republicans talk about reforming school systems and giving parents choice, many black leaders are thinking: "I know our schools are terrible (that's why I send my kids to better schools), but it's not certain that your proposed solutions are going to be any better – and it's almost 100% certain that your proposed solutions will cost my community good jobs.  How can I support that, especially in these brutal economic times???"

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