NYT Includes Squishy Miami-Dade Layoff Figures

There doesn’t seem much doubt that the recession hit black workers across all sectors of the economy, or that those in the public sector might have been hit particularly hard — as this NYT story (Public-Sector Jobs Vanish, Hitting Blacks Hard) describes:

Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs… They are about 30 percent more likely to have a public sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics.

But whether the recession hit teachers and other education staff particularly hard is another, more complicated issue. 

For example, the claim is made in the NYT piece that there have been dramatic job losses in Dade County public schools despite student enrollment increases:

In Miami’s public schools, many of the layoffs in recent years have fallen on secretaries, school monitors and paraprofessionals, said Fedrick Ingram, president of the United Teachers of Dade and one of the Ingram brothers. His bargaining unit lost more than 6,000 positions since 2009 at the same time the number of students was increasing, he said.

This seems strange to me for the following reasons: The federal government poured an enormous amount of funding into schools during the recession to prevent mass layoffs of educators, which generally were avoided. Classroom teachers are disproportionately white even in districts where the students are of color, and this story is about black workers losing their jobs. Elsewhere in the Times’ series, elementary school teaching as two of the top 20 growth areas for employment since the recession (and high school teaching as one of the bottom 20):

The Changing Nature of Middle Class Jobs NYTimes.com

And — as eagle-eyed readers will have noticed — the claim of 6,000 jobs lost isn’t verified by the Times, but rather passed along.

So what do the USDE and the district have to say about staffing levels and disparate impacts in Miami schools?

According to NCES, total staffing levels reported to the feds increased slightly from 37,603.50 in 2009-2010 to 38,754.50 in 2012-2013.  And NCES says there were 21,756 teachers in fall 2009  and 21,475 in 2012-2013 — just a few hundred fewer

According to Denise Landman, Director of Public and Media Relations for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the district has lost roughly 50,000 students and so has had to adjust its workforce to deal with the decreased student enrollment. But the staffing reduction numbers are nowhere near those cited by the union, according to Landman: 

From 2009 until May 2015, we have reduced the teacher workforce (UTD) by 2,479 not 6,000. We have also let go of about 100 UTD clerical positions a year for the past 7 years, for a total of 711 positions lost.

None of this is to suggest that black workers haven’t had a particularly hard time in the recession, or that districts and states haven’t reduced funding and laid off non-certified staff during and since the recession. Aides, clerks, and pretty much anyone who isn’t a core subject classroom teacher is at particular risk during an economic downturn, and may be more likely to be black. 

I’m just saying that the Times included the claim without seeming to have verified it, and it may not have been entirely accurate or to fit the narrative about black workers without college degrees losing public sector jobs that was being told.

I’ll let you know if I hear anything back from the union local.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.