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State and local jobs losses in one chart


For context, the economy actually lost jobs in July. And that's a problem: Turning 316,000 people out of their jobs means it will be harder for everyone else on the job market to get a new job, as there'll be even more competition for the few openings we have. With about five job-seekers competing for every open position, if one of these state employees gets a new job, that's four other folks who're out of work who won't get that job.

Some people want to use our economic slump as an opportunity to address all sorts of things they don't like in the states. Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government, "argue[s] that states have hired far too many teachers in the last decade and that they should be downsizing the pool of teachers rather than asking for a federal bailout."

Whatever you believe about how many teachers should've been hired in the first place, this is a bad time to start laying them off. Fire them in a normal economy, and they can find new jobs. Fire them in this economy, and they either can't find new jobs, or in finding new jobs, they make it so other people can't find new jobs. When you've got an unemployment problem, adding to the ranks of the unemployed makes solving it a lot harder.

Graph credit: CBPP.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 12, 2010; 9:35 AM ET
Categories:  Charts and Graphs  
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First, is it possible to provide a graph with 50 overlaid trends -- one for each state -- rather than an aggregate? Surely some pseudo-scholar at the leftist lobby corporation CBPP is aware that since states operate independently, aggregated information is absolutely useless: the effects of fiscally imprudent welfare states like California, Illinois, and New York tend to skew the picture.

Second, is it possible to indicate the number of previously (and ostensibly desirable) staff reductions in each state? For example, Virginia has for years been trying to reduce its alcoholic beverage control staff despite Social-Democrat opposition to limits on government involvement in private matters. The planned downsizing is politically possible this year and it is happenstance that there is high unemployment.

Posted by: rmgregory | August 12, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

OH MY GOD! State and local payrolls are approaching zero!!11! Oh wait - the axes cross at 19.45. I really really hate charts that use scale to overemphasize the trend. Shame on CBPP. The job losses are a big deal, but this makes them look catastrophic.

Posted by: jeirvine | August 12, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Of course, Ezra won't post state/local employment going back 5-10 years.

A crisis is a bad thing to waste, right? When exactly is a good time to be laying these people off?

Even if I buy the argument that we somehow need to preserve teacher jobs (and I don't), there are 16 million unemployed people in the nation. Tacking on another 300k is a rounding error.

And even if you believe that these jobs need to preserved at all costs, and they are expensive jobs, where are the concessions to fix long term issues? Why not reduce teachers unions' golden health care packages? Why not cut future pension liabilities? Why not take steps to ensure that the 2010s do not engage in a massive hiring of state/local employees like the 2000s did?

Posted by: krazen1211 | August 12, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"this is a bad time to start laying them off. Fire them in a normal economy"

Not an option. When times are good, state and local governments spend like drunken sailors.

Try again.

Posted by: ostap666 | August 12, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Given that the job losses translate to about 1.6% off the largest payrolls ever, I think one has to conclude that the recession has hit state employees far more lightly than it has the private sector.

Posted by: tomtildrum | August 12, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm seeing about a 1.5% decrease in gov't jobs. That is way less than what the private sector has seen, so it appears they are doing comparably better. Ideally, you'd like the gov't to be countercyclical, providing jobs when the private sector isn't, and laying off workers when the private sector is desperate for more employees.

Posted by: nylund | August 12, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

"Turning 316,000 people out of their jobs means it will be harder for everyone else on the job market to get a new job, as there'll be even more competition for the few openings we have."

There's something wrong with that sentence. It's like saying we should have 20 hour weeks because that means there'll be twice as much work for everyone. I mean, it scans well but something is off.

Posted by: conor1971 | August 12, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

When the new BLS statistics came out, I checked the sector by sectors splits, and so far the loss hasn't been from teachers. They split education and healthcare out from their state and local government numbers. The loss he's showing is caused by state and local government excluding the education and health sectors.

Still a lot of people warned that state a local governments were going to retrench if they didn't get aid, and here we are. It is certainly caused by something.

Posted by: zosima | August 15, 2010 1:15 AM | Report abuse

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