Yesterday, Alex MacGillis pulled an important thread out of the jobs report, pointing out that while we’re finally back in the black when it comes to the generation of private-sector jobs, public-sector ones are still being shed — largely because of that whole eviscerating-state-budgets thing:

Economists have of course been pointing out for a long time now what a drag public sector losses have been on the recovery—noting, for one thing, that Ronald Reagan did not have to contend with that same drag during the recovery of the early 1980s. What is striking, though, is how little focus there has been on this distinction in the political debate about the recovery. The most glaring example of this oversight came recently when Mitt Romney tried to make up lost ground with women voters by charging that 92.3 percent of the jobs lost Barack Obama’s presidency have been held by women. The Obama campaign and independent factcheckers countered that this was a deeply misleading figure. Lost in the back and forth, though, was the larger truth around the argument: yes, women have been hit disproportionately since the official conclusion of the recession in the summer of 2009—because they disproportionately hold the public sector jobs—in schools and government offices—that have borne the brunt of the layoffs. This is what really made the Romney attack so galling, more than his games with the numbers—he and his fellow Republicans in Congress and state capitals have slashing public payrolls with blithe equanimity and have resisted Obama’s efforts to provide fiscal relief to states and cities to mitigate the layoffs. That is, the big job losses among women (and among minorities, which Republicans also like to point to, to tweak Obama) are the direct result of a policy they have pushed. Yet they then lament, for political gain, the desired outcome of that policy. This is right up there in the chutzpah department with the classic example of the patricidal orphan.

Democrats could be pointing this out, but they’re not, really. This is probably partly rooted in a reluctance to be seen as making excuses for the slow recovery, a stance for which they would inevitably be scolded by the pundits. But it’s also probably rooted in the Democrats’ ambivalence from the outset about making a big stand on behalf of public sector jobs.

Right. That’s the eternal debate, isn’t it? Many Democrats (and, perhaps more importantly, those who consult many Democrats) seem convinced that any arguments along these lines are complete nonstarters, that it’s just way too difficult to defend public-sector spending. But when you can point to an overcrowded classroom or a city where the police cuts have been so extreme that many crimes simply aren’t investigated at all anymore, I just can’t help but think, as MacGillis argues, that the Democrats are missing some serious opportunities here to paint their opponent’s preferred policy solution as misguided and devastating on the local level.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.