New York Times, Friend of the (Government) Worker

June 20th, 2012 1:02 PM

The New York Times proved itself friend of the worker – the government worker, anyway – in Wednesday's front-page story by Shaila Dewan and Motoko Rich, "Layoffs Hitting Public Workers; Recovery Is Hurt – Tight Rein On Spending – Government Jobs Down by 657,000 Since '09 as Aid Is Cut."

Companies have been slowly adding workers for more than two years. But pink slips are still going out in a crucial area: government.

In California, the governor is threatening to eliminate 15,000 state jobs. When school begins in Cleveland this fall, more than 500 teachers probably will be out of work. And in Trenton -- which has already cut a third of its police force, hundreds of school district employees and at least 150 other public workers -- the only way the city will forestall the loss of 60 more firefighters is if a federal grant comes through.

Government payrolls grew in the early part of the recovery, largely because of federal stimulus measures. But since its postrecession peak in April 2009 (not counting temporary Census hiring), the public sector has shrunk by 657,000 jobs. The losses appeared to be tapering off earlier this year, but have accelerated for the last three months, creating the single biggest drag on the recovery in many areas.

With the economy expanding, albeit slowly, state tax revenues have started to recover and are estimated to exceed prerecession levels next year. Yet governors and legislatures are keeping a tight rein on spending, whether to refill depleted rainy-day funds or because of political inclination.


Conservatives have argued that the government was bloated after a hiring surge during the housing boom and is now returning to a more appropriate size. Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, criticized the president’s budget proposal to give states an additional $30 billion for teachers, police officers and firefighters. “Those new public sector jobs must be paid for with more debt and taxes borne by the private sector,” he wrote.

But those with disappearing jobs say that the effects are not just economic -- they mean longer response times to fires, larger class sizes, and in some cases lawsuits when short-staffed agencies are unable to provide the required services.

Motoko Rich made the same argument of government as vital economic pump-primer in an April 2011 Times story, under the headline "Shutdown's Ripples Would Be Wide," and even cited President Obama as a non-partisan source.

In all, Dewan and Rich cited eight sources in support of more federal workers, with only one opposed, and that one, Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, was labeled "conservative" while none of the opponents were given an ideological tag (Cato is actually a libertarian organization).

The Times laid on the sympathetic anecdotes:

After 32 firefighters were laid off in Muncie, Ind., the area that could be reached within eight minutes was cut by half, said Mike Whited, the president of the firefighters union. A federal grant restored 25 workers, but the city does not know if it will be renewed.

Mr. Whited chafed at portrayals of public workers as overpaid or greedy, saying his union and others had made concessions, including paying more for their health insurance and forfeiting raises. “I think a lot of people don’t understand what we do,” he said. “They’re looking for somebody to blame, and I think they’re being led the wrong way.”

Businesses can also be hindered by government cuts. They not only lose prospective middle-class customers but may face long waits for services. Roland Pott, a real estate broker and developer in Trenton, said that fewer city inspectors adds to construction delays. And the shortage of police officers means he must assuage the safety concerns of prospective tenants. “It makes it harder to lease a space or market a space because people are choosing between Trenton or another area,” he said.

As if long lines for government services is some kind of unique occurrence that happens only during bad economic times.