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National Review Online


Private vs. Public Employment

June 04, 2012

By Nicole Gelinas

We hear a good deal lately about how state and local governments, thanks to balanced-budget requirements, are slashing the number of workers they have, thus exacerbating the recession recovery.

The bigger problem, though, is that state and local governments do not have the strong private work forces they need to support public employment.

Private employment today is barely what it was in January 2000 — less than eight-tenths higher. We had 110 million workers back then, and we have 111 million today.

Yet the state-government workforce is still 6.5 percent higher than it was back then, and the local government workforce is nearly 8 percent higher, despite cutbacks in the past few years.

Moreover, state and local governments started their recessions later than the rest of us did, adding jobs through late 2008 even as everyone else cut back.

The problem is not that state and local governments are cutting back; that phenomenon is a symptom.

The problem is that the private workforce is not growing sufficiently, either to absorb laid-off government workers or to pay for the ones still working.

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