Gov. Pat Quinn proposed in his budget address yesterday closing multiple state facilities – meaning about 2,400 pink slips to state employees. The continued hemorrhaging of Illinois government jobs even as the economy recovers is part of a national trend, contends a report released this week by the Nelson Rockefeller Institute of Government in New York.
“Private sector employment has been recovering steadily but slowly over the last two years, while state and local governments have been shedding jobs almost continuously for the last three years,” the report reads.
When the recession started in 2008, initial job losses mostly happened in the private sector. Recently, there have been modest national gains in private sector jobs – a 1.3 percent uptick from October-December 2010 to October-December 2011, the report finds, using U.S. Bureau of Labor stats.
State government jobs are another story. There was a 1.6 percent loss in state government jobs between October-December 2010 and October-December 2011. Local government jobs have also continued to decline.
Illinois more or less follows this national pattern, though the state has had proportionally more government job layoffs (Illinois also has a worse than average state budget problem). The state saw a 1.3 percent gain in private sector employment between the end of 2010 and end of 2011; and a 2.6 percent loss in state government jobs.
Quinn mentioned in his budget address that he has presided over the permanent elimination of 2,200 state positions since becoming governor in January 2009.
The cruel disconnect for public workers – where the economy is recovering but their jobs are more in danger than ever – is unique to this recession. Public employment actually continued to climb during the previous two U.S. recessions, in 1990 and 2001, according to the study.
Why has this happened? Progressive economists and pundits argue that the federal government – which can spend all the money it wants even with a deficit – is derelict in not sending enough money to broke state and local governments that are legally required to balance their budgets. American Prospect editor Harold Meyerson compared federal stimulus efforts to a bathtub tap with state and local governments an unstopped drain.
But it is Pat Quinn (and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has also issued a number of public employee layoffs) and the Illinois General Assembly that must order the layoffs – and face the heat — not President Obama and Congress.
Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability is sympathetic to Quinn’s situation. “Governor of Illinois is a not good place to be,” Martire says. “There are limited and dwindling resources.”
Still, Matire says Quinn could do more in his difficult situation, like a discussion about the need to raise state revenues – i.e. moving Illinois from a flat to progressive income tax – in order to avert some of these layoffs. “The primary issue is flawed revenue policies,” Martire says.