Even though state and local governments are spending much of their American Rescue Plan Act money on operations, the number of public workers nationwide has plummeted from nearly 700,000 during the pandemic to a low. to that of the Great Recession, according to a new Center for American Progress Report.
Among the positions that have seen the biggest declines are janitors and administrative assistants, jobs disproportionately held by people of color or women.
As a result, the left-leaning think tank urged, in the report released Friday, that governments focus on using their federal relief funds to hire workers. To restore jobs for women and minorities, the group said, states and municipalities should rethink requirements such as college degrees, which exclude some people from government jobs. He also urged states and localities to do more to recruit people from disadvantaged communities.
ARPA provided $350 billion to state and local governments to help offset lost revenue and costs from the early days of the pandemic. Despite the influx of money, governments have been “significantly slower” to restore lost public sector jobs, according to the report.
This “not only affects voters who directly depend on their services, but also has devastating effects on the economic security of those most likely to work in these jobs, disproportionately women and workers of color,” the report said. .
The group’s findings come even though most of ARPA’s funding has gone to maintaining government operations, according to a joint effort by Brookings Metro, the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities to track how 41 major cities, 104 major counties, and seven consolidated city-counties use dollars.
About 38% of dollars budgeted so far have gone to government operations, compared to 12.7% for housing, 12.3% for community assistance, 12.2% for public health and 12% for infrastructure.
Jobs created last year and earlier this year should be reflected in employment figures showing declining public sector jobs, said Marina Zhavoronkova, CAP’s senior researcher for workforce development. work and co-author of the study.
In February, based on federal data on current employment statistics, local governments employed 627,000 fewer people than the same month in 2020, according to the CAP study. State governments employed 68,000 fewer people than two years ago.
Public sector jobs recovered much more slowly than private sector jobs after the Great Recession and were barely back to 2008 levels in 2019 when the pandemic wiped out those gains. Last year, the number of public sector employees fell again to 3.2% less than in 2008.
Beyond the importance of the work that government employees do, the report notes that the number of people employed by state and local governments is important in terms of equity.
It showed that the majority of state and local government employees are women. Additionally, women in 2021 were more likely than men to depend on state and local governments for jobs. While 15% of employed women worked in the public sector, 9% of employed men worked for governments.
Biggest Job Drops
The largest declines during the pandemic, according to the study, came from administrative jobs like office clerks, administrative assistants and receptionists. Last year, local governments employed nearly 46,000 office clerks and nearly 20,000 fewer secretaries and administrative assistants than in 2019.
These jobs were particularly important for women, especially those who are black, because it allowed them to earn more money to do the same work as in the private sector, according to the study. State governments also employed nearly 9,000 fewer receptionists and information workers over the same period.
Likewise, local governments employ far fewer janitors and building cleaners, jobs that earn more black and Hispanic men than doing the same job in the private sector. The study also noted that state governments are employing fewer drivers — nearly one in five of whom are black men — than just a few years ago.
“Many jobs with lower barriers to entry in local and state government have seen steep declines. This is a concern for the economic security of those most likely to fill these positions,” the report said.
Also gone are adjusters, appraisers and examiners, for whom governments must compete with the private sector to recruit workers despite lower wages, the study finds. Additionally, state governments have lost 8,000 working people as they adjudicate unemployment claims, according to the study. Local governments also employed 19,000 fewer accountants and auditors than in 2019. State governments also employed 7,000 fewer people in these professions, which are dominated by women.
The job losses come on top of other hardships civil servants have suffered during the pandemic. Citing a study by MissionSquare, which provides retirement benefits to civil servants, the CAP report noted that almost a third of public sector workers have had to take on more debt, in part because of furloughs instituted by governments in the start of the pandemic.
In hiring more workers, the report urges governments to “reconsider how they attract, hire and train potential candidates”. For example, the group said governments should consider getting rid of hiring requirements in some cases.
“While some private sector employers have reconsidered credential requirements, state and local governments are far more likely to require post-secondary education than the private sector, and in some cases this may pose an unnecessary barrier to entrance,” the report said, noting the country’s “persistent racial equity gaps in educational attainment.”
The report notes that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced earlier this month that the state was scrapping the four-year degree requirement for thousands of jobs.
Additionally, the report acknowledges that many state and local governments do not have enough human resources staff to assess their hiring practices. Still, the report urged local governments to work more with community workforce development programs to get a more diverse pool of people applying for the jobs.