That’s the way it is across much of Louisiana. The state has added 80,000 new jobs since the Great Recession officially ended in 2009. But at the same time, jobs have been shrinking at every level of government, with local offices losing 10,600 workers, the state government 31,900 and the federal government 1,600. Louisiana is an exaggerated case, but the pattern persists when you look at the country as a whole. Since the recession hit, private employers have added five million jobs and the government has lost 323,000. The country has recovered from the recession. But public employment has not.
The public sector has long been home to the sorts of jobs that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. These are jobs that have predictable hours, stable pay and protection from arbitrary layoffs, particularly for those without college or graduate degrees. They’re also more likely to be unionized; less than 7 percent of private-sector workers are represented by a union, while more than a third of those in the public sector are. In other words, they look like the blue-collar jobs our middle class was built on during the postwar years.
The public sector’s slow decimation is one of the unheralded reasons that the middle class has shrunk as the ranks of the poor and the rich have swollen in the post-recession years. This is certainly true in Louisiana, where five of the 10 biggest employers are public institutions, or health centers that in no small part rely on public funds. In Rapides Parish, which includes Pineville, the biggest employer is the school district.