POLITICS

Black Americans Would Be Hit Hardest By A Government Shutdown

The economy may be bouncing back, but many government jobs have been slow to catch up.

A federal government shutdown would disproportionately affect African-Americans, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

The progressive Economic Policy Institute used official government data to determine that African-Americans make up nearly 20 percent of the federal government workforce, compared to about 10 percent of private sector workers. 

That makes African-Americans especially vulnerable to a government shutdown. Although federal workers typically receive back pay once a shutdown is over, going without compensation for weeks at a time can create financial strain.

Previous shutdowns have also led to cutbacks within many local and state governments that have disproportionately affected women, the EPI found. Women constitute nearly 60 percent of the state and local government workforce, and less than 50 percent of private sector workers.

African-Americans and women may already be suffering from a slow recovery in public sector employment. Between 2007 and 2011, during the Great Recession, state and local governments lost nearly 765,000 jobs. African-Americans and women were hit the hardest during this period, as they accounted for nearly 20 percent and 70 percent of those losses, respectively.  

EPI notes that there are still 381,000 fewer jobs at the federal, state and local government levels than there were in 2007, the year before the financial crisis hit. Public sector employment only began growing again last year, when 74,000 jobs were added.  

According to Elise Gould, an economist at EPI, it is easy to understate just how many jobs were lost in the public sector if you do not factor in the normal growth in the country's population. We would need 1.8 million more public sector jobs than we currently have to reach pre-recession levels of public sector employment as a share of the population, she estimates.

Sluggish public sector job growth may help explain the alarmingly high African-American unemployment rate. Nationwide, the African-American unemployment rate remains 9.5 percent, nearly twice as high as the overall population’s rate of 5.1 percent.

African-Americans and women were embraced in the public sector market in the mid-1960s, as government interventions and anti-discrimination policies began to open these jobs up to marginalized groups. Government jobs became a crucial route to the middle class for many people, but have also left them highly vulnerable to shifts in policy and budget cutbacks.

These budget cuts have intensified struggles for black Americans, who have seen programs for children cut, homes lost at higher rates than they are for whites, and a wider overall gap in wealth inequality.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story swapped the percentages of state and local government jobs lost by women and African-Americans during the Great Recession. Women account for 70 percent of the job losses, and African-Americans account for 20 percent.  

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