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June 06, 2014 10:40 AM No Job Growth in Public Sector

By Ed Kilgore

As the May Jobs Report has its brief moment in the sun today, it’s worth remembering that all this steady job growth of the last four months has occurred entirely in the private sector. Public-sector employment remains below pre-recession levels. So much for the continuing conservative fiction that rapidly growing Big Government is threatening to extinguish the private economy along with Human Liberty. Beyond that, it’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that if austerity policies had been adopted less avidly at the federal and state levels over the last few years, the employment situation would be brighter, as noted today by the New York Times’ David Leonhardt:

Private-sector employment first exceeded its pre-recession jobs peak a few months ago, in March. Last month, the (nonfarm) private sector included 0.5 percent more jobs than in December 2007, when the recession began. The public sector remains well below its employment peak.
In fact, public-sector employment has barely begun to recover. It reached a recent low of 21.83 million jobs in December and now has 21.87 jobs. Many state and local governments cut jobs sharply to deal with budget deficits during the recession. The federal government also employs somewhat fewer people than it did in December 2007.
Cutting government spending — and jobs — obviously can bring benefits, in that it saves taxpayers money and can help address the country’s long-term budget problems. But those problems really are long-term, stemming from the aging of the baby boomers and the growth of health costs. The federal deficit today is at a level many economists consider manageable. And the recent cuts in government jobs stand in stark contrast with the government’s expansion in the wake of the recessions in the 1980s and ยด90s.
If the government hadn’t done so much cutting over the last several years, the job market would almost certainly be healthier today.

Listen to what Republican candidates are saying in competitive primaries around the country. To hear them—seriously, nearly all of them—we need much more public-sector austerity. This is from the webpage of “Republican Establishment” Senate nominee Thom Tillis of NC:

Under the Obama Administration, big government handouts and bailouts have increased while millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Thom knows that big government doesn’t create jobs—the private sector does. Government has simply become too big, too expensive, and too intrusive in our lives and businesses. In the Senate, Thom will work to shrink the size of our federal government to its core Constitutional role so the private sector can thrive.

“Core Constitutional role” is Tea-speak for getting rid of every federal activity not enumerated in the Constitution. Tillis’ fellow “Republican Establishment” candidate, Iowa’s Joni Ernst, has more specifically called for the abolition of EPA and the Department of Education. These are people who would send the economy to the bottom of hell if it were necessary to implement their smaller-government ideology. Indeed, yet another big-time Republican Establishment Senate candidate, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, once spoke with satisfaction of the healthy moral effect a second-wave recession might have.

Yet people say Republicans have no jobs strategy. Sure they do: kill public sector jobs and private sector jobs affected by public investment, and someday the markets will provide. In the mean time, those in the ranks of the long-term unemployed best get off their butts and show they’re willing to work for lower wages, or they deserve their misfortune.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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