| April 8
April 8 Since 2009, the city of Chesapeake,
tucked up against the Great Dismal Swamp in southern Virginia,
has cut its workforce twice. This summer, nearly three years
after the recession ended, the city of 222,209 has plans for a
third round of layoffs.
"We're not seeing the recovery we want to see," said Budget
Director Steven Jenkins, who is hoping many of the 20 people
will move into other jobs.
The city's revenues are still feeling the concussions from
the housing market downturn, which started in 2006, even as
overall growth in the United States has improved.
"We are heavily reliant on the residential real estate
market," said Jenkins. In a recent assessment the average
property value dropped 3.7 percent, which hits property taxes,
and hurts government budgets. "The reassessment we just had was
as big as any we've seen since the recession started."
While Friday's report of weak growth in U.S. March payrolls
raised concerns about the pace of private-sector hiring, local
government jobs remain a drag on the recovery, one that is not
anticipated to end soon.
State and local governments for a time were able to shield
public safety and education workforces from harmful cuts as the
recession deepened. The 2009 federal stimulus fund helped offset
lost tax revenue, but that money is gone.
Now, many cities and counties nationwide are facing the same
dilemma as Chesapeake. Squeezed by depressed property tax
revenues and cuts in state aid, they are chipping away at their
The result? The last three years of job losses at the state
and local government level has been the most dramatic since
Labor Department records began in 1955, according to a Reuters
Public-sector employees tended to have more job security,
which in some ways helps during weak economic climates, as their
steady demand for goods and services spread through the economy.
The recent trend, conversely, can make things worse.
"If public-sector employment had grown since June 2009 by
the average amount it grew in the three previous recoveries (2.8
percent) instead of shrinking by 2.5 percent, there would be 1.2
million more public-sector jobs in the U.S. economy today," said
the Economic Policy Institute in a recent report, which included
federal employees in the calculation.
Local governments have cut 482,000 jobs since the beginning
of 2009. They added jobs in just two months since 2011 started.
Previously, states only had two consecutive years of layoffs,
1995 and 1996, when they scrapped about 57,000 jobs, or about
one-third of the 150,000 cut since the beginning of 2009.
"The current recovery is the only one that has seen
public-sector losses over its first 31 months," the report said.
As of March, 14.1 million people worked for local
governments and 5.1 million for states. Public employees
outnumber those in manufacturing, construction, and other areas
typically considered engines of the economy.
HIT BY HOUSING, LOW DEMAND
Three weeks ago, firefighters in Scranton, Pennsylvania,
took 10 minutes to respond to a fire, instead of the usual four
minutes or less. Lighter staffing was blamed, as the city had
laid off 29 firefighters in January.
"We had been telling them ... there's a catastrophe that's
going to happen here," said John J. Judge IV, president of the
International Association of Fire Fighters Local 60.
After the delay, 12 of the firefighters were rehired, but
that's still a reduction of 17 workers.
In March, local governments shed 3,000 jobs after gaining
1,000 in February, according to the Labor Department. State
governments added 2,000 jobs. However, states employ 39,000
fewer people than a year ago, and the slight recent improvement
is unlikely to be confirmed.
"The rate of decline is slower," said Christopher Hoene,
research director at the National League of Cities. "But I don't
think the curve is shifting upward. I don't think we're going to
see hiring in the local government sector."
Meanwhile, the private sector is creating jobs. Friday's
employment report showed private payrolls gained 121,000 jobs in
March, while public payrolls lost 1,000.
Moody's expects states to lose at least another 15,000 jobs
through 2012 and local governments between 150,000 and 175,000.
"It's going to continue to be a drag on overall employment,"
said Moody's Investors Services Economist Daniel White.
STATES VS. LOCALS
Des Moines, Iowa, weathered the recession better than many
other cities. Its unemployment rate is 6.1 percent, more than
two percentage points below the national average.
Nonetheless, it recently eliminated more than 40 full-time
positions after property valuations dropped 3.5 percent. It too
wants to put those workers into other jobs, said Deputy City
Manager Allen McKinley, a former finance director and budget
officer for the Iowa capital.
Des Moines also has fewer dollars to spend as the state
recently mandated bigger contributions to police and fire
pensions, McKinley said.
As public pensions attempt to close total shortfalls of at
least $600 billion, many state and local governments are having
to pitch in more money to retirement systems, taking dollars
away from other departments. Also, with fewer employees on the
payrolls, the smaller the worker contributions to pension
systems that must send retirees fixed amounts each month.
A new threat has emerged in Iowa. Both parties in the
legislature, along with the governor, hope to boost growth by
cutting commercial property taxes, which make up around half of
Des Moines revenues, by about 40 percent. Cities across the
state are protesting the three proposals.
All states except Vermont must end their fiscal years with
For its upcoming fiscal year, Florida cut 4,000 state jobs
and reduced higher education and healthcare funds. Spending cuts
in the $70 billion budget are so bad that Palm Beach County
Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock said constituents might sue.
Florida's new budget means Bock must find $2.5 million in
savings and still "keep the courts open," she said.
The office has already laid off 111 employees to cope with
four years of budget cuts. Now, it will not fill 40 vacancies or
replace departing employees - its annual turnover rate is about
10 percent. The staff size is currently around 430 people.
The worker shortage will result in 10 hours of backlog each
week, Bock said.
"Here is the dilemma that I am in: I take an oath as a
constitutional officer to provide services to the public," she
said about her duties, which include keeping vital records and
operating court systems.
"Do I get sued by the public because I can't open a branch
office or because I have to close one day a week? Or do I lay
off people, and e n d up in the same scenario?"