Mayor Vincent C. Gray marshaled several top aides Tuesday to make the case that seven months after they went into effect, the federal budget cutbacks known as sequestration have started to take a toll on the city’s economy.
The officials made their case in four charts. First, after 18 months of steady declines, the city’s unemployment rate has leveled off:
And the number of District jobs in that period has also leveled off:
The stagnation in job creation, officials said, due largely to public-sector job losses — the jobs most directly affected by federal cutbacks:
Had those 7,000 government jobs been maintained, Gray argues, the unemployment rate would be nearing 8 percent right now:
At the beginning of the news conference, Gray called on Congress to revisit its meat-ax approach to budget cutting when it returns to work later this month. But federal lawmakers aren’t likely to shed anything but crocodile tears for the District, which fairly or not has been perceived as as oasis in the nation’s economic turmoil, buoyed by government spending. Plenty of folks will look at the decrease in public-sector employment — and, to an extent, the continued growth in private-sector employment — and conclude that sequestration is doing precisely what it was intended to do.
So what were the other political motivations behind the news conference?
Most obviously: The Large Retailer Accountability Act, aka the “living wage” bill, is now on Gray’s desk, and he’s facing major heat from union, clergy and community activists who want him to sign it into law. By highlighting the city’s uncertain employment picture, Gray could be launching a political narrative that could culminate in a veto announcement. He refused to discuss the matter Tuesday, coyly at times.
Also remember that Gray’s top political priority as mayor has been jobs. By fingering sequestration, he is shifting blame for the recent employment stagnation from his administration to Congress or, more broadly, factors beyond his control. With roughly two months to decide whether to mount a reelection campaign, now is a fine time for Gray to get that message out.