The United States is on track to lose millions of jobs if the federal government doesn’t help state and local governments fill in budget shortfalls. Some of the jobs will be in the private sector as governments drop contracts and as public workers curtail their spending, but it’s a guarantee that government workers will be hard hit. And like so much else about the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, that means increased inequality.
The National Women’s Law Center details the damage women, and especially women of color, have already experienced and face if things don’t get better. Already, women are 63% of the 1.5 million state and local government jobs lost between February and May. That’s in line with the six in 10 workers in state and local governments who are women. These aren’t the jobs of last resort, either. They’re jobs that do better by women than the private sector, reducing inequality.
“In 2018, women instate and local government jobs had a median wage of almost $7,000 more per year than women in private sector jobs,” the NWLC notes. “For Black women and Latinas, the difference was even more pronounced, with the typical salary for a Black woman working in state or local government exceeding the typical salary for a Black woman working in the private sector by $10,000 per year, and the typical salary for a Latina working in state or local government exceeding the typical salary for a Latina working in the private sector by $15,000 per year.”
That narrows the wage gap, with Black women coming 17 cents an hour closer to white, non-Hispanic men than they do in the private sector. Across all women in state and local government, the wage gap narrows by 3 cents an hour. That’s added to women working for state and local governments being much more likely to have health coverage. And it’s a significant source of good jobs for women of color: One in seven Black women in the workforce is in state or local government.
If the federal government doesn’t help state and local governments close budget shortfalls, the economic crisis across the country will deepen and settle in, making for a longer and harder recovery. “This is not an abstract concern—the historically slow recovery in state and local spending following the Great Recession by itself delayed a recovery in unemployment to pre-crisis levels by four full years,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.
And it won’t be rich white men—or even mostly non-rich white men—who pay the price.
About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.