Jobs with state and city governments are usually a source of stability in the U.S. economy, but the financial devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has forced cuts that will reduce public services — from schools to trash pickup.
Even as the U.S. added some jobs in May, the number of people employed by federal, state and local governments dropped by 585,000. The overall job losses among public workers have reached more than 1.5 million since March, according to seasonally adjusted federal jobs data released Friday. The number of government employees is now the lowest it's been since 2001, and most of the cuts are at the local level.
“With that comes a decline in essential public services,” Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said on a conference call with reporters this week. For instance, “911 calls are taking a long time to be answered.”
Clean drinking water and trash pickups also are being affected in some places, he said.
Tax revenue from businesses walloped by coronavirus restrictions has plummeted, forcing cuts by cities and states that rely on that money. It's likely to get worse in the coming months unless Congress delivers additional aid to states and cities.
Several states are projecting tax revenue will be down 20% or more for the fiscal year starting next month, and governments are facing rising costs resulting from the virus and the police and National Guard response to protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
The layoffs and furloughs are coming amid calls for governments and school districts to do more to respond to the outbreak — from hiring workers to find those who had contact with people infected with the coronavirus to additional janitors needed to sanitize schools and make them safe for students and teachers to return.
“It’s going to make it very, very difficult to reopen schools in the fall because you need more money, not less money to reopen,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.