Amid all the job losses that have taken place in recent years, the public sector has been one of the hardest hit areas. Between 2009 and 2012, state and local governments shed the most jobs of any three-year period since the 1950s -- a trend that's had real consequences in towns that now employ fewer cops, firefighters and teachers than they used to.
We asked our readers in New Jersey -- where the crime rate for cities like Newark and Camden has jumped in the past two years following police department cuts, and where governor Chris Christie has been leading a charge of austerity and public-payroll reduction since taking office in 2010 -- whether they've noticed any change in day-to-day life as a result of local government layoffs.
A number of readers were quick to report that, in fact, they haven't seen any changes, and moreover they approve of the efforts to pare back local government. "I personally have noticed nothing as a result, which makes me suspect that most layers of government in this state were overstaffed to begin with," one person told us. "Understand that the people of NJ have been urging layoffs for decades," another wrote.
However, not everyone took this view. Below are some of the more concerned voices from the Garden State:
Anna Davenport writes that the Trenton Police Department "has had major cuts to their force" and that crime "has definitely increased." Citing budget constraints, Trenton officials laid off 108 police officers last year, a third of the city's force. Fifteen officers have since been rehired. Davenport, who lives just over the town line in nearby Hamilton, told The Huffington Post that she has begun to feel unsafe on the streets "at sunset or even before."
John Vanellis in Trenton echoes Anna's comments, writing that "crime of all kinds has increased. Of particular concern is the rise of violent crimes, especially related to drug activity and gangs. Murders have increased markedly. My wife lives in fear that we're going to get caught in a crossfire."
Have you been affected by state or local government layoffs? Send us an email at email@example.com. Be sure to tell us what town you live in.
Reader Frank in Clifton notes that his city "had a budget shortfall coming into 2012 because of a further decrease in state assistance. In order to avoid a deficit, the city cut back on various programs and functions such as Santa appearances, summer camps, extending vegetation pickup, etc. The town also put off hiring [for] 11 open positions for police and fire. With the lack of personnel on the police force, the department was forced to push current patrol officers into overtime to cover for issues such as accidents, events, construction, etc."
A reader who asked that his name not be printed tells us, "Our police force in Paterson, New Jersey -- a city of 200,000 founded in 1792 -- has less manpower on the streets now than before. As a result, we have a problem with prostitution in cars in residential areas (like mine). Women from out of the neighborhood park in two cars on the streets, solicit by smartphone, and then either turn tricks in their cars (leaving litter of condoms and fast food behind) or in their johns' cars. I've seen people in the act parked in front of the house, and there are no police to respond quickly." Paterson laid off 125 police officers last year.
A reader in Livingston writes, "When I inquired after the ‘superstorm Sandy’ why I was not contacted with emergency information (shelters, power, etc. -- I live alone and am well over 65), despite repeatedly trying to sign up for the notification service, I was apologetically told that unbeknownst to the Town Manager, the person in the police department responsible for keeping the list had been laid off months before. So when the emergency happened, many of us were never on the list for information. No one had been assigned to take over her job."
We also heard from some city employees, who told us how their lives were made more stressful by the attrition in their ranks. A reader in Trenton writes:
When Chris Christie became Governor he declared war on all public employees (apparently everything that's wrong with NJ is our fault) and began a campaign to cut public pension benefits. Just about all public employees in NJ (state, county, municipal, and public schools) are in a state-sponsored pension plan. When Christie came gunning for our retirement benefits, thousands of state and local and public school employees who had the necessary age and number of years of service grabbed their parachutes and headed for the exits by taking early retirement. A lot of people, myself included, left sooner than we might have otherwise if Christie hadn't scared us all into taking early retirement.
Because of the mass early retirements the state was able to avoid layoffs, but many of the younger local public employees got caught up in the layoff meat grinder. It was mostly younger workers who got laid off.
Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.