The easy-to-save jobs we’re losing anyway

Every month, when the new job numbers come out, we tend to see the same thing: the private sector is faring relatively well, adding jobs, while the public sector is shedding jobs quickly. The former number is generally much larger than the latter, which means the economy is still adding jobs, but the public-sector losses are a significant drag on a weak employment market.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Nicholas Johnson explained the other day, “Since August 2008, state and local governments have slashed 611,000 positions, and the cuts have been getting worse — 340,000 of those jobs were lost in the last 12 months. July was the ninth consecutive month, and the 29th out of the last 35, in which total state and local employment shrank.”

This chart, via Ezra, helps drive the point home:

I know I talk about this a lot, but given the jobs crisis and the public demand that policymakers address unemployment, it’s important to realize one of the key factors dragging down the economy.

Layoffs at the state and local level were mitigated in 2009 by the Recovery Act, which saved thousands of jobs that would have otherwise been eliminated. Those funds have since been exhausted, and the public sector is back to making severe layoffs. It’s why that column on the right is the most severe.

This is what David Leonhardt recently described as “an unforced economic error” — with all of the problems we can’t control, this is one problem we know exactly how to prevent. We just choose not to, because the Republicans’ ideology dictates that these job losses are actually good for us.

No, really, the GOP looks at the above chart and sees this as a positive development. Under the Republican economic model, the public sector is supposed to lose jobs, and as part of the party’s austerity agenda, this is a problem that must get worse on purpose.

Earlier this year, for example, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about his spending-cut plans and the fact that the cuts would force thousands of public-sector workers from their jobs. “So be it,” the Republican said.

In other words, deliberately making unemployment worse wasn’t seen as a problem. This is a feature of the GOP model, not a bug.

All of this is easily preventable, but our jobs crisis is partly the result of our political crisis. Congress can choose to spend the money to keep these workers on the job, but Republicans find the very idea offensive, so it doesn’t happen.

The irony, of course, is that when unemployment doesn’t improve, it’s Republicans who complain bitterly and blame Democrats, which in turn leads to more calls from the right to curtail “out of control spending,” which makes the jobs picture even worse still, which leads to more bitter complains from the GOP.