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American Voices: Tricia Rose on saving government jobs to keep the playing field level

My father worked for more than two decades as a bus driver and supervisor for the city of New York. Today, well into his retirement, he has a modest pension and health benefits. But the stability and opportunity afforded to my father and our family by city employment is being threatened for the current generation, especially in communities of color.

My father’s job was part of the doors opened by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that aimed to end racial discrimination in employment. Today, about one in five black workers has a job in the public sector. But during the past year, while the private sector has added 1.9 million jobs, state and local governments have cut 250,000 positions.  Those layoffs compound already bleak economic fortunes among Blacks and Latinos whose jobless rates remain much higher than the national average. Cities, trying to stay afloat, are making cuts that could make this crisis far worse. Sharp reductions in municipal jobs like bus drivers, police officers, and social workers will disproportionately impact an already fragile black working and middle class.

These workers will now turn to the private sector.  But even with nearly a half-century of anti-discrimination laws, significant discrimination persists. According to one 2009 study by professors from Princeton and Harvard, white applicants with a criminal record were just as likely to get a job offer or callback as black applicants without a criminal record.  Republicans like to talk about government jobs as waste. But these jobs are central to a working democracy. In a discriminatory job market, they have been a veritable beacon of fair hiring practices for black and Latino citizens. It’s not just about saving jobs. For example, cuts to city services like public transportation can unravel the very delicate threads that connect poor families to daycare and schools, and their jobs.

Budget cuts that ignore these disparities may derail a half-century of efforts to create a more level playing field in the workplace, threaten the future health of cities and crush the black and Latino communities within them. Strategies that take these disparities into account could make all the difference.

Watch the rest of the segments from this episode.


  • Gene Clarke

    And what “Strategies that take these disparities into account could make all the difference” do you propose? Cut salaries to save job? No, public service unions object. Increase health care permiums? No, unions object. Pension reform? No, unions object. Or, the last resort, raise taxes to save public services jobs? No, I object my taxes are high enough thank you and I face the realities of working in the private sector. The only strategy for state and local governments is to downsize and shed workers. If anyone has a realistic alternative, this is the time to bring it to the table.    

  • jan

    This is probably the only segment that made any sense and gave you something to think about last night.  Not living in a large city I didn’t realize that public service employed a lot of black and Latino workers. 

    And as for you Gene Clarke.  You probably want to keep in mind that you get what you pay for.  If you want underpaid and overworked public sector employees then you better get prepared for lousy service, no service, and/or service from another continent that you can’t understand and you better not complain.  

  • Gene Clarke

    You do raise a good point. With the exceptions of safety and fire I can’t think of one service the state or local government provides that can’t be outsourced to the private sector were the economy will bring into equilibrium services levels with pay/benefits and performance. If we are looking for equality then let it be driven by the free hand of the competitive market. That works for everyone.

  • jan

    Good.  You should appreciate a license department which was privatized by a republican governor where you find yourself sitting for more an hour while the clerk serves two people. Between crashing computers and clerks who didn’t know what they were doing….  After an hour of sitting there I finally gave up and left.  In fairness, I would have to say that the democratic governor following him didn’t change anything but the names of who the license departments were given to.  It has, more or less I think, become a part of a growing bipartisan spoils system.  Do I need to add that I went to that office while it was still a government agency and got out of there quickly?  Privatization is not the panacea you seem to think it is. 

  • Anonymous

    Too much government?  That is our biggest problem now.  Too many new stupid
    regulations.  Too many people on the dole because of bloated government.  Trim
    it, give it a weight loss program.  The private sector is what made America great.
    Czars at $600,000 apiece with expenses – give me a break – get rid of them.  What
    do they do?  Obama is making a mess of America without them in the mix.
    Pray for freedom, new leadership; else America is lost.