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Question of the Day
The recession reportedly ended in July, but the private work force suffered its biggest percentage decline in 2009 for any year since the end of World War II.
After shedding 3.8 million net jobs during 2008, private employers slashed an additional 4.7 million last year. During the same two-year period, the public sector, including the federal government, gained more than 100,000 jobs. The combined work forces of state and local governments added 35,000 jobs during the 2008-09 period.
While private-sector jobs declined in every state except North Dakota over the previous 12 months, public-sector employment increased in 23 states, the Labor Department report showed. Even in North Dakota, as the private work force gained 300 jobs over the past year, the government sector surged by 1,000 new workers.
In states where government employment declined during the previous 12 months, the drop has been relatively inconsequential, while the decline in private employment has been far more severe. In California, where the state government is still in the grips of a wrenching budget crisis, private employment has plunged 5.5 percent, nearly four times as fast as the 1.5 percent dip in government employment.
Mr. Booth of AFSCME acknowledges that total government payrolls are higher today than they were at the beginning of the recession. During the two years since the recession began, government workers took their economic medicine by accepting furloughs in lieu of layoffs, he said. Workers kept their jobs but received pay for two fewer days per month, he said.
He noted that government payrolls have been shrinking since April. State and local government work forces historically decline after a lag, he said. School district payrolls, for example, are based on property-tax revenues, which generally follow a two-year lag, he said.
Citing projections by Moody’s Economy.com and Goldman Sachs, Mr. Booth said state and local government work forces could decline by as many as 900,000 workers during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“Furloughs are likely to yield to RIFs,” or reductions in force, he said.
Taxpayers in the private sector fortunate to have jobs were working more days and for less money to finance the vacation and holiday time of state and local workers, according to the compensation report.
For every hour worked in December, state and local government workers earned $2.99 in paid leave. Private-sector workers earned $1.86 per hour worked for paid leave, or nearly 40 percent less. Holiday pay for state and local workers was 50 percent higher per hour than it was for workers employed by private businesses.
The biggest difference in compensation was in payments for defined-benefit pension plans, in which employers (a private company or, in the case of government workers, the taxpayer) commit to paying their employees a specific benefit for life beginning at retirement.
State and local workers received an average of $2.86 for each hour worked for their defined-benefit pensions. That compares with 38 cents per hour paid for defined-benefit plans for private workers, the vast majority of whom now participate in defined-contribution pension plans.
“Many companies have eliminated their defined-benefit plans, and others have reduced the value of benefits and shifted to providing benefits through 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans,” notes the AFL-CIO Web site. “Defined-contribution plans shift the risk and responsibility to individual workers and typically reduce corporate costs.”
In the cases of state and local government workers, the pension costs are principally borne by the taxpayer. The trillions of dollars of underfunded pension liabilities are augmented by increasingly expensive and underfunded health care costs in retirement before and after government workers become eligible for Medicare at age 65, Mr. Edwards of Cato said.
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