Austerity’s effect on state job growth

David Leonhardt of the New York Times has a chart on the Economix blog today that shows how austerity measures at the federal, state, and local levels have held back growth in the U.S. economy over the past year and a half. As the blue line from his chart indicates, despite gains in the private sector, public sector growth was negative every quarter since Q3 2010.

What does this look like in terms of jobs? As you can guess, it isn’t pretty. In a blog post last September, I noted that government job losses are at the heart of overall job losses in numerous states since the recession officially ended in June 2009. Just to coincide with the timeframe I’ve noted from Leonhardt’s chart, the table below shows the change in government employment, total job losses for industries that lost jobs, and government losses as a percentage of total losses by state since Aug. 2010. The Dec. 2011 state unemployment rates and net change in employment figures are shown as well.

The numbers are pretty explicit: For the United States as a whole, every major industry except for government has gained jobs since Aug. 2010. Federal, state, and local governments have lost 440,000 jobs over that timeframe, accounting for 100 percent of losses for industries that lost jobs. Just to clarify, this does not mean that only government workers lost their jobs, but for every non-government worker in the country that lost a job over the past four months, at least one more job was created someplace else in that industry.

At the state level, government accounted for more than half of all job losses for industries that lost jobs since Aug. 2010 in 27 states, and made up 100 percent of losses for industries that lost jobs in Arizona, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Government losses also made up more than 50 percent of losses in seven of the 10 states with the largest number of jobs lost, and six of the 10 states with unemployment rates above 9.5 percent.

Of course, the private sector will absorb some of these losses and thankfully we have seen a positive net change in employment for most of these states since Aug. 2010.  But make no mistake, the idea that drastic cuts to public budgets would somehow spur private-sector growth is a myth that has undermined recovery efforts both in the United States and in Europe. In reality, cuts to public-sector budgets have a significant negative private-sector impact. As my colleague Ethan Pollack has demonstrated, “for every dollar of budget cuts, over half the jobs and economic activity will be lost in the private sector.” Net change in employment since Aug. 2010 may be positive for most states, but it’s frustrating to think how much better these job numbers might be if we hadn’t spent the past 16 months shooting ourselves in the foot.

Research assistance by Natalie Sabadish