‘An unforced economic error’

Following up on this morning’s job numbers, it’s worth reemphasizing a point the right generally prefers to ignore: spending cuts are making unemployment worse. Dealing with the jobs crisis is hard enough, and conservative policies are akin to throwing an anvil at a drowning economy.

In September, the U.S. economy added 103,000 jobs overall, but the private sector added 137,000 jobs. The total was dragged down by the loss of 34,000 jobs. There’s no great mystery here — as government at every level cuts spending, this necessary leads to public-sector layoffs, affecting, among others, teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

For Republican policymakers, this is a feature, not a bug. In the GOP worldview, the economy will improve when hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers lose their jobs. That may sound ridiculous — and it is — but it’s also a central tenet to the Republican employment policy. Remember what House Speaker John Boehner said earlier this year, told that his budget plan would force hundreds of thousands of government employees into unemployment? “So be it.”

Also, this isn’t a new problem. Alan Pyke posted this chart today, showing “the steady contraction of the public sector and the expansion of the private economy since the Recovery Act actually began to reach the economy in early summer 2009.”

In case it’s hard to read, the blue line shows private-sector growth, while the red line shows public-sector deterioration.

When spending cuts force these public-sector workers from their jobs, it not only hurts them and their families; the effects are felt throughout the economy. These laid-off employees are forced to scale back dramatically, which means they’re spending and investing far less, taking money out of the economy when the economy needs more capital, not less.

The result, obviously, is a brutal drag. Adding insult to injury, it’s a drag that’s easy to avoid. 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, and helping keep the economy from getting worse. Those funds have since been exhausted, and the public sector is back to making severe layoffs. 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. The notion that government would actively and deliberately make unemployment worse seems genuinely insane, and yet, that’s what’s happening thanks to GOP fiscal policies.

What’s necessary right now is some political will. President Obama’s American Jobs Act includes resources to keep public-sector workers on the job. Congressional Republicans have said this is out of the question because, well, I really don’t know why. They haven’t said. Something about “government = bad” or some similarly useless phrase that demonstrates a child-like understanding of public policy.

But the fact remains that it would be fairly easy to make the jobs landscape better. The expense wouldn’t even be that great. The only thing standing in the way is a major political party that’s convinced unemployment will get better after they fire a lot of teachers and cops.