The Faith Community’s Statement on the May 2013 Jobless Numbers & Public Sector Workers
June 7, 2013
As people of faith, we continue to be concerned about our country’s slow economic recovery. With this month’s release of unemployment rates, we see yet another sign that while economists say that the recession has ended, the reality of unemployment and under-employment remains true for millions of Americans—particularly those often left on the margins of the conversation
about economic recovery.
The unemployment rate in the month of May increased slightly to 7.6%. While the total jobless number is 11.8 million, 175,000 jobs were created in May. Still there remains a startling 4.4 million who are long term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) — 37.3% of the unemployed population. Among specific worker groups the unemployment for adult men was 7.2%, adult women 6.5%, whites 6.7%, blacks 13.5%, Hispanics 9.1%, and Asians 4.3%.
Though economic signs indicate that the U.S. is slowly starting to recover from the most recent recession, the public sector is still struggling tremendously with job loss. Public sector jobs include construction workers, teachers, health professionals, sanitation workers, firefighters, transportation workers, and government employees, among other positions. They are the people
who help run and protect almost every aspect of our country’s public business. Still, according to a recent report by the National Women’s Law Center, “For both men and women the public sector was the only major sector which lost jobs between January 2012-January 2013. The sector overall lost 74,000 jobs in the last year, 63,000 of which—over 85 percent—were women’s jobs. Since women make up about 57 percent of public sector employees, the cuts in 2012 represented strikingly disproportionate losses for women.”
Public sector job loss has been particularly troublesome because in a typical recession, public employment is a source of stability and economic strength. But in the past few years, budget cuts at the national, state, and local levels have instead contributed to the downturn and boosted unemployment. Ben Polak, chairman of the Economics Department at Yale University, and Peter Schott, professor of economics at the Yale School of Management, wrote in 2012, “There is something historically different about this recession and its aftermath: in the past local government employment has been almost recession-proof. This time it’s not. Going back as long as the data have been collected (1955), with the one exception of the 1981 recession, local government employment continued to grow almost every month regardless of what the economy threw at it. But since the latest recession began, local government employment has fallen by 3 percent, and is still falling.” They go on to state, “If state and local governments had followed the pattern of the previous two recessions, they would have added 1.4 million to 1.9 million jobs.”
The on-going budget cuts came to a head in recent months when federal budget across-0the-board spending cuts (the sequester) went into effect—harming thousands of public sector workers. Many employees have been furloughed for unseen periods of time, others have lost their jobs all together, and as sequestration continues to drag on, we learn each day of more cuts to jobs and services they provide. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that sequestration will cost the U.S. economy 750,000 jobs in 2013 alone. These job loses cause a ripple effect, harming not just public sector workers but the also the contractors, services, and industries that support them.
As we consider these monthly reflections of our economy’s health, we remind our elected officials that they must act now on legislation that aims to create jobs and strengthen our economy for those who are at greatest risk of impoverishment and hardship, especially public sector workers. As scripture tells us, “One who withholds what is due to the poor affronts the Creator; one who cares for the needy honors God.”-Proverbs 14:31.
You can find DHN’s Jobs Statement of Principles at http://domestichumanneeds.org/uploads/DHN-Jobs-Statement-of-Principles.pdf.
American Friends Service Committee
Bread for the World
Church of the Brethren
Disciples Justice Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Interfaith Worker Justice
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
The Jewish Federations of North America
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
The Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Justice Team
Union for Reform Judaism
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society