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The federal jobs report that came out Friday gave us a snapshot of employment conditions. The economy gained 209,000 jobs last month — less than economists were expecting, surveys show, but still a strong number. Not a small chunk of that growth came from jobs created by state and local governments, which have dramatically ramped up hiring in the past year.
Governments from Hawaii to Maryland have been collectively hiring 57,000 people per month, on average, this year. That is more than double last year’s rate.
“The number of new faces I see around Corvallis, it’s a big number,” said Patrick Rollens with the city of Corvallis, Oregon, population 59,000.
The city hired 312 people to work part- and full-time jobs, increasing the municipal workforce by 60% over the past fiscal year. A lot of it was in service jobs.
“So public works, parks and recreation, a lot in public safety, so police and fire,” Rollens said.
During the pandemic, public places like libraries and pools shut down or needed fewer workers, then ramped back up.
“This is still actually cities, counties, recovering from the pandemic,” said Mike Bartlett, a program manager with the National League of Cities.
A lot of local governments had to spend more during the pandemic — think handing out laptops to school kids — while taking in less in taxes. Local government jobs shrank by 4.5%, which Bartlett said is much greater than the private sector’s loss. The recovery isn’t complete.
“We are down about 10% of our workforce from pre-pandemic levels,” said Brian Platt, the city manager of Kansas City, Missouri.
Platt said Kansas City has become leaner and more efficient during the pandemic and doesn’t need as many workers as it did before, but it still needs to hire.
“We’ve got positions open everywhere. It could be city planners, attorneys, but also labor employees out picking up trash and plowing snow,” Platt said.
Local government employment has rebounded faster than in previous economic downturns, said Kate Bahn of the Urban Institute.
“And this is a marked difference from the recovery from the Great Recession, where public-sector work really, really lagged for years and years in the recovery,” Bahn said.
Uncle Sam chipped in a lot more this time with pandemic relief packages. One of the lessons from the Great Recession is that getting local governments back on their feet financially helps economic recovery overall.
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