A Public Sector Job Is a Job

A Secret the Republicans Know But Will Never Admit

In the last three recessions--but not this one--public-sector jobs grew. The Republicans know why.

Take a look, would you, at this very fascinating chart via Media Matters but originated by the Economic Policy Institute on public-sector job growth during recent American recessions.

In each of the three previous recent recessions of 1981, 1990 and 2001, the number of public-sector jobs increased during the darkest days. Now, first of all: hey, isn't it interesting that our three recent recessions started under Republican presidents? Huh.

At any rate, the chart shows you that in all those bleak periods, while the private sector was draining jobs, the public sector was gaining jobs. By about 1 percent in the 2001 recession, by 3 percent in the 1990 one, and by more than 3 percent in the 1981 one. Yes, as is often the case, Ronald Reagan was the most socialistic of the lot.

Why did this happen, even though the economy was contracting? Because the government kept spending money. You can "blame" the Democratic congresses that were in place if you want to, but there's no blame to be spread. This was a good thing. People were working and spending money. The increase in public payrolls was helping to offset the contraction of private ones.

Public-sector job loss this time, though, has contributed mightily to overall stagnation. EPI had much more to say on the subject in an excellent report issued last month. It's around 750,000 jobs we're down in the public sector.

Republicans know this. Even if they're sincere about smaller government, which is open to question in many cases, but even if they are, they understand enough about economics to know that a person working and making $50,000 is doing more for the economy than a person not working. Whether that person is a teacher or a cop or a private-sector IT person, he is pumping money into the economy.

The Democrats have done their usual not-very-good job of making this an issue and putting the GOP on the defensive. You look at this chart and ad writes itself. And yet, I ads don't write themselves, because lots of good ones never seem to get written.