Black Public Servants Hit Hardest by Government Layoffs

by Julianne Malveaux

“There’s always work at the post office,” my mama said after I’d
melodramatically threatened to drop out of college in 1971. That was an
adage heard by millions of African Americans in the 20th century.
Indeed, postal jobs have long been a path to middle-class status for
many black families and a haven for educated blacks who could not find
jobs elsewhere.

No more. As we attempt to put a year of economic
pain behind us, many public-sector workers are looking to the new year
with dread, not hope.

With the U.S. Postal Service in the red, about 3,700 local post offices will be closed and about 100,000 employees will be cut. Blacks make up about 21% of that workforce.
Postal workers aren’t the only government or quasi-government employees
on the chopping block. The Labor Department reports that state and
local governments laid off at least 142,000 workers in 2011. At the
federal level, Congress has threatened to freeze the pay of and lay off
federal workers to finance the Social Security tax cut and extension of
jobless insurance.

Black workers will bear the brunt of these sacrifices.

One in five black workers are public employees,
compared with one in six non-black workers. Why? Blacks earn more and
advance more quickly in the public sector. For these reasons, blacks
are 30% more likely than whites to work in government, as teachers,
nurses, social workers, administrators, bus drivers and deliverers of
municipal services. Public service jobs are an important source of work,
especially for black women, 23% of whom are public employees.

wonder that as overall jobless rates dropped from 9% in October to 8.6%
in November, the black unemployment rate actually rose: from 15.1% to
15.5%. Most states with a budget crisis are working it out by laying off
workers, which means a disproportionate number of hard-working blacks.

pain hardly matters to budget hawks who apparently don’t understand
that they are imperiling economic recovery by laying off government
workers in order to balance budgets.

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