Public cuts disproportionately harm women, Black workers

The following is from the Economic Policy Institute:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 14, 2020) — The coronavirus pandemic has created a severe budget crisis for state and local governments, as tax revenue has fallen precipitously at the same time that governments are facing extraordinary demands for public health and welfare supports. Because states are severely limited in how they can borrow, the only way to address this crisis is through Congress authorizing significant additional fiscal support to state and local governments. Without federal aid, many states will likely make devastating cuts to the services and staffing they provide, sending the country into a prolonged depression with 5.3 million jobs both public and private likely lost before the end of next year.

Failing to provide aid to state and local governments would be not only be an act of needless economic self-sabotage, it would also exacerbate racial and gender disparities. If state and local governments are forced to cut personnel, those cuts are likely to fall hardest on women and Black workers.

Historically, the public sector has been a key employer for women and people of color. During the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government — through executive actions and legislation — adopted various anti-discrimination and affirmative action measures that boosted the employment of women and Black workers in government. Now, decades later, all state and local government jobs are subject to the federal regulations requiring equal opportunity, and some states and localities have additional affirmative action programs. Consequently, state and local government has generally achieved a more diverse workplace than the private sector.

Now, as millions of state and local jobs are put at risk, the disproportionate representation of women and Black workers in those jobs means that, all else being equal, they will disproportionately feel the pain of state and local budget cuts. Figure A shows the share of state and local government employment that is women workers. For decades, women have made up the majority of the state and local government workforce, and in 2019, they made up fully 60% of all state and local public-sector workers.


Similarly, Figure B shows that, while the Black share of state and local government employment has grown and then shrank since the 1980s, it has still remained above the Black share of private and overall employment over the full period. Indeed, the public sector is among the most critical employers of Black workers. As of 2019, nearly half of all Black women (48%) and more than one-fifth (21%) of Black men in the workforce are employed in education, health services, or public administration — the primary industries of state and local government.


State and local government workers are far more likely to be unionized than workers in the private sector. Nearly 39% of state and local public sector workers are union members, compared with only 7% in the private sector. For decades, private-sector unions have been under attack, with employers routinely, and illegally, interfering in workers’ efforts to unionize — despite a broad desire for union representation among private-sector workers. The public sector has done a far better job at protecting workers’ rights to act collectively, despite a barrage of legislative and judicial attacks.

These statistics all show that if Congress does not act to provide budgetary relief to state and local governments, the country is likely to lose millions of middle-class, family-supporting jobs that have offered particular opportunity to women and Black workers. At a time of reckoning for the deep racial divides and tremendous injustices perpetrated against Black Americans — often at the hands of government — it would be especially cruel for Congress to effectively gut one of the most meaningful sources of good jobs for Black workers in America.

The Economic Policy Institute is an independent, nonprofit think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States. EPI’s research helps policymakers, opinion leaders, advocates, journalists, and the public understand the bread-and-butter issues affecting ordinary Americans.

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