Friday, May 29, 2015
Over the years minorities have found upward mobility in public sector jobs. Irish cops and Indian-educated doctors. Government has often been the “blind-eye” employer, bucking racism, sexism and anti-ethnic/religious prejudice that often seeps into and even governs private sector expectations. African-Americans too have found massive numbers of career paths in government, from military leaders, judges and cabinet officers all the way to day-to-day police officers, soldiers, court clerks, mail carriers and bus drivers. For many, comfortable lives, educated children and a bite of the American dream have been the rewards along the way.
So what happens when government imposes a new austerity, one where government employment is contracting, even where soldiers are informed not to re-enlist? What happens to aspiring minorities with yet one more career path denied?
“For … millions of … black families, working for the government has long provided a dependable pathway to the middle class and a measure of security harder to find in the private sector, particularly for those without college degrees.
“Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs. They are about 30 percent more likely to have a public sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics.
“‘Compared to the private sector, the public sector has offered black and female workers better pay, job stability and more professional and managerial opportunities,’ said Jennifer Laird, a sociologist at the University of Washington who has been researching the subject.
“During the Great Recession, though, as tax revenues plunged, federal, state and local governments began shedding jobs. Even now, with the economy regaining strength, public sector employment has still not bounced back. An incomplete recovery is part of the reason, but a combination of strong anti-government and anti-tax sentiment in some places has kept down public payrolls. At the same time, attempts to curb collective bargaining, like those led by Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, have weakened public unions.” New York Times, May 24th.
We are in fact seeing a significant reduction, from local and state to the federal level, of government jobs. “The Labor Department counts half a million fewer public sector jobs than before the start of the recession in 2007. That figure, however, understates just how much the government’s work force has shrunk, said Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research organization in Washington. That is because it fails to account for the normal growth in the country’s population: Factor that in, she said, and there are 1.8 million fewer jobs in the public sector for people to fill… Because blacks hold a disproportionate share of the jobs, relative to their share of the population, the cutbacks naturally hit them harder.
“But black workers overall, women in particular, also lost their jobs at a higher rate than whites, Ms. Laird found. There was a ‘double disadvantage for black public sector workers,’ she said. ‘They are concentrated in a shrinking sector of the economy, and they are substantially more likely than other public sector workers to be without work.’” NY Times.
Indeed, when we were in the depths of the Great Recession, the numbers for women and African Americans were pretty nasty: “The disproportionate share of women and African Americans working in state and local government has translated into higher rates of job loss for both groups in these sectors. Between 2007 (before the recession) and 2011, state and local governments shed about 765,000 jobs. Women and African Americans comprised about 70 percent and 20 percent, respectively, of those losses. Conversely, Hispanic employment in state and local public-sector jobs increased during this period (although most of that increase likely occurred in the lowest-paid jobs).” Economic Policy Institute report, May 2, 2012.
So with government cutting back, what exactly are we doing to make up for the losses? The new jobs that have come on line since the “recovery” have not remotely replaced the jobs we’ve lost, public or private. Middleclass jobs have been replaced with working class employment. Jobs with real chances for advancement have slid back as jobs that offer only contract or part time employment replaced them. Educational requirements for menial work have driven out those with high school or less on their applications.
We have managed to leave taxes really low for the mythical “job creators” (who really haven’t create much in the way of meaningful employment notwithstanding their catchy label), but for most of us, it’s less money, lower expectations and a much tougher life than our worst fears would have projected. What we really haven’t done, for average white, black, or the ethnically diverse, is to take care of our own. I guess that’s what you get when you live in a plutocracy where money, not justice, fairness or democratic principles, governs.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I think what we are doing to ourselves very much resembles the infamous Chinese “death by a thousand cuts” torture.