by Marvin King
While the stock market cheers today’s news that the Federal Reserve is coordinating action with several central banks in Europe and Canada, attempting to stem the European sovereign debt crisis, too little attention is paid to the structural deficiencies in the American economy – long term unemployment.
In fact, Republicans lead the charge to permanently cripple a large section of the economy.
Even as the private sector job market shows signs of a modest, but real rebound from the depths of recession (in later posts I will explain why this has me sanguine about Obama’s reelection chances), public sector layoffs continue unabated.
It’s the shrinking of the public sector that hampers the ability of Black workers to ride out the long-lasting effects of the Great Recession. Black workers, either in the military, the Post Office, or in many other government agencies, typically find government work the safest, most stable and least discriminatory of employment options. In fact, over 20% of all public sector workers – state, local and federal – are African American.
Yet, despite this salve, Black employment, at 15.1%, is nearly double the White unemployment rate of 8%.
Thus, it is with particular horror when I see the glee on conservative columnist George Will’s face when he discusses how “good” it is that government workers are losing out.
Let us not forget the pure political calculus at play here. Political parties serve to protect their own voters. Republicans love to bash government bureaucrats because they know few of their core voters work for the government (think of Grover Norquist’s dream to “drown government in the bathtub”). Republicans know that Black workers disproportionately suffer from their policies.
But, because GOP candidates receive so few votes from Black voters and so few votes from government workers they become an attractive target.
The casual Republican response will be that race has nothing to do with it, that there is a legitimate need to shrink the size of government. GOP rhetoric, of course belies the facts: total government employment has already steadily shrunk since the 1960’s.
It is just like so many Republicans to ignore and neglect the human cost of their policies. They launch fire and brimstone when Democrats advocate that the wealthiest among us should pay more to help with deficit reduction. Yet, the same compassion is lacking when it comes to helping everyday Americans, you know … survive.
Why might that be?
A second common Republican refrain is that the real problem is unionized public sector workers.
Since public sector jobs generally require higher education and that over the last 15 years, “earnings for state and local workers have generally declined relative to comparable private sector employees” you should be wary in accepting that argument, too.
Maybe it’s not as simple as Black and White. But I’m convinced that if all government workers were White suburbanites, elected Republicans wouldn’t be so callous about drowning them in the bathtub.
Marvin King received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Texas and is now an Associate Professor of Political Science with a joint appointment in the African American Studies Program at the University of Mississippi. He conducts research into how political institutions affect African American politics. Marvin is available for public speaking engagements and you can follow him on Twitter @kingpolitics