Why this is the worst jobs recovery for state and local governments in 40 years

The good news in Friday morning’s jobs report is that government jobs didn’t change from January to February. The bad news is that government jobs didn’t change from January to February.

By nearly every measure, the recent recovery to state and local government jobs is worse than it has been following the previous four recessions. The fact that government jobs have held relatively steady over the past few months is good — those jobs are no longer declining — but it also means the recovery to that sector has been on hold.

State and local government employment account for about 1 in 7 jobs. It may be obvious, but watching that sector also matters for reasons beyond its size. And, in a report last month, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York explained why:

“Analyzing trends in state and local government employment is important not only because of the large size of the public sector, but also because government employment has a significant impact on education, public safety, health care and human services,” the report’s authors wrote.

Here’s a look at where the recovery to that sector stands, thanks in large part to their research and a Thursday Census report:

1. The public jobs recovery lags behind the private one


The state and local government jobs recovery compared to the private one. (Rockefeller Institute)

The private-sector employment recovery has been slow no doubt, but it’s at least on the right trajectory — approaching a return to pre-recession levels. That’s not the case yet for public employment. As you can see in the chart above, state and local government employment rose briefly during the recession, but fell in the recovery and are now hovering in negative territory.

2. The drops have been deeper than in any recent recession


State and local government cuts compared to past recessions. (Rockefeller Institute)

This chart’s pretty self-explanatory. See that red line? The only one in negative territory at month 72? That represents the change in public employment after the Great Recession began. Public employment had grown by this point after the start of each recession since 1973 except the most recent one. It’s still below where it started when the recession began.

3. Among local government jobs, education was hardest hit

Cuts to local education. (Rockefeller Institute)
Cuts to local education. (Rockefeller Institute)

Among local government jobs, education jobs (in blue) have seen a steeper decline than non-education jobs (green). For almost two years, local government education jobs have hovered at a level between 3 and 4 percent below where they were when the recession began.

4. This recovery lags behind others in every way

The interactive below shows that public employment during the most recent recovery lags behind that of the four previous ones whether you’re comparing state v. local or education v. noneducation jobs.

5. It’s a mixed bag for states


State and local government employment change between March 2007 and March 2012. (Census)

This Census Bureau map, released Thursday as part of its once-every-five-years look at public employment, doesn’t compare the most-recent recovery to past ones but it does show how mixed it has been among states.

In Utah and North Carolina, public employment was up more than 10 percent from March 2007 (the recession would begin that December) to March 2012. Michigan saw a nearly 10 percent decline. A dozen states saw state and local government employment grow more than 4 percent while 11 saw it decline more than 4 percent.

BONUS: Where state and local government employees earn the most

The interactive and map below don’t say anything about the recovery, but they’re interesting so I’m including them.

What they do show is how much state and local government employees get paid (according to the March 2012 Census data). Full-time employees in the District of Columbia, California, and New Jersey earned the highest salaries, pulling in an average monthly salary of $6,113, $6,101, and $5,740, respectively.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.

politics

govbeat

Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics

politics

govbeat

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Next Story
Reid Wilson · March 7, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.