Lack of aid to states could hit Black and women workers hard
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As Congress continues to hash out plans for the next relief package, it’s not clear whether aid is coming for state and local governments. Their budgets have been hit hard by declining tax revenue since the pandemic shut down parts of the economy and by increased demand for many social services.
States, unlike the federal government, generally can’t run deficits to cover their spending, so without an infusion of federal relief many could see cuts to services and employee layoffs. That would hit some groups especially hard because historically marginalized workers are overrepresented among public employees.
Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, comes from a long line of public employees.
“My father, my mother were public-sector workers,” he said. “My dad was a city bus driver, and that was a way, back then when I was growing up in Cleveland, for African American families to move into the middle class.”
The mostly union jobs of the public sector provided solid wages, good benefits and a level of job security that was tough to find elsewhere. In the 1960s and ’70s, anti-discrimination and affirmative action policies boosted government employment of women and people of color, a trend that persists today.
“The public sector disproportionately employs workers that have historically had more trouble in the labor market due to issues around discrimination,” said John Schmitt, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute.
Black and women workers are still overrepresented in state and local government jobs. Black workers make up 12% of all employees but 14% of state and local public employees. Women make up slightly less than half of all employees but 60% of state and local government employees.
The sector also serves as an important jobs pipeline for military veterans — 1 in 8 of whom currently work in local public service.
Major job cuts in the sector would affect those populations acutely. We already saw this play out during the Great Recession, when the sector shed almost 800,000 jobs, disproportionately those of Black and especially Black women workers. Those jobs were also slower to come back than jobs in the private sector.
“We never caught up again,” said Sylvia Allegretto, co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at the University of California, Berkeley. “So we have a huge gap.”
She said the lingering effects of those cuts to jobs and resources in local services like, say, public health departments, are now compounding our health and economic crises.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What do I need to know about tax season this year?
Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.
How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?
It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.
How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?
Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.
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