The latest victims of the slumping economy are those who may have thought they were among the most immune: state and local government workers.
In this area and elsewhere in the country, particularly in the Northeast, government workers are facing pink slips. As tax revenue has fallen sharply, cities and states are finding they have no choice but to lay off people.
This week, a special commission recommended the elimination of 6,000 jobs in the District. And Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon has promised to lay off 2,000 city workers as part of a cost-cutting program. Prince George's County is laying off 190 workers. Nearly 1,000 Virginia employees are losing their jobs, and Maryland is not filling 5,000 vacancies.
Elsewhere, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said over the weekend that he would lay off 10,000 state workers; reductions also are underway in the city of New York, as well as in Philadelphia, Trenton, N.J., Boston, New Haven, Conn., and Baltimore. Massachusetts has been laying off workers for more than a year.
"It is very bad, and I think you are going to see a lot more," said Gerald H. Miller, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.
Layoffs and hiring freezes are a turnabout from the fast-paced growth of state and local employment in the mid to late 1980s, when governments were flush with revenue from the economic expansion and were faced with new needs shifted to them by the federal government.
From 1985 to 1989, state and local government employment grew by 8.1 percent nationwide. In the Washington metropolitan area -- where state and local government employment makes up 10 percent of total jobs -- the increase in state and local employment was 12.2 percent. Employment with the federal government, meanwhile, was relatively unchanged.
More than half of the states are seeing revenue come in below the levels projected in their budget forecasts. According to the state budget officers' organization, 33 states spent more than they collected in fiscal 1990, tapping surplus funds to make up the difference because they are required to balance their budgets.
The myriad civil-service work-rule protections in the states and cities are not enough to prevent workers from losing their jobs because of bad economic times. Public-sector jobs, it turns out, are just as vulnerable to economic forces as private-sector jobs -- even if a bit more paperwork is involved.
"If you exhaust your avenues and opportunities, then clearly there are layoffs," said William Lucy, international secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "As long as your workers get due process, that's what you argue for."
In Prince George's, the county is providing counseling and retraining for the 190 workers who will be laid off in January, but it does not ease the pain much.
"It is the hardest decision I have made in eight years of being county executive," Parris N. Glendening said. "These are more than statistics and savings, these are people. In many cases they are people I know personally. But my obligation is to balance the budget and make some hard decisions."
Glendening said he believes that other jurisdictions in the region are going to have to initiate layoffs as the economy continues to slow. Prince George's, he said, took the pain relatively early in order to achieve maximum savings in its two-year budget plan.
"The bottom line is this is just like the private sector here," he said. "The private sector must balance those books at the end of the year, and state and local governments must balance our budgets."
Unfortunately, the problems of the private sector mean that laid-off government employees are going to have a much more difficult time finding work. In the last 12 months, the number of private-sector jobs has not grown in the metropolitan area, and northeastern states and cities now laying off employees have even more troubled economies.
Experts believe the public-sector layoffs are going to worsen.
Cities and states are exhausting non-personnel cost-cutting measures. Not all capital projects can be deferred, not all programs can be cut and cut again.
And laying off workers has a high bang for the bucks not spent: The employer saves the cost of overtime and benefits in addition to salary. In the District, for instance, about half of the $3.8 billion city budget goes for salaries, overtime and benefits for workers.
"If you are going to make a difference, you have got to look at personnel," said Douglas Peterson, a senior policy analyst at the National League of Cities. "You can take off some big chunks in terms of deferring capital projects, but other than that city budgets are largely personnel costs."
The slowdown in tax collections is going to continue to put pressure on government officials to trim personnel.
Income taxes tend to respond first to a slower economy because they are the most sensitive to changes in jobs and profits, but sales taxes and property taxes also slow down after a lag time.
There is little sign locally or nationally that the economy is going to improve and drive up tax revenue. Employment is stagnant or falling, and without new jobs, there is no new income to tax.
"If the population is not growing, you are not adding new taxpayers or new consumers. Basically, what you have got happening in the governments here is that revenues are falling," said Richard Groner, head of labor market information for the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
Staff librarian Mike Slevin contributed to this report.