Manhattan Moment: Whites hit hardest by public employee layoffs

A story appeared in The New York Times last week claiming that the downsizing of government is having a disproportionate impact on the economic fortunes of blacks because they are overly represented in government jobs.

The Times then editorialized that this disproportionate impact was reason to pause and reconsider further government downsizing.

Yet the Times’ story, repeating a theme that others have echoed, ignores actual government data on public sector employment, which shows something quite different.

In fact, it is whites who are somewhat more overrepresented in government relative to their position in the broader population, and it is whites who have absorbed the brunt of government layoffs.

Quarterly data from the Current Population Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks actual statistics on government employment by race, show that as of the third quarter of this year, there were slightly under 20 million government jobs in America.

Of that number, 15.86 million (or 79 percent of all government jobs, to be precise) were held by white workers. some 2.87 million jobs, or 14.3 percent of the total, were held by blacks.

These numbers are no shock when you consider that whites make up some 73 percent of the nation’s population and 82 percent of the nation’s workforce, and blacks compose 12.3 percent of the population and 11 percent of the total workforce.

In other words, blacks hardly rely on government employment to any extraordinary degree beyond whites. Four out of five black workers work in the private sector.

Now to the downsizing. The CPS shows that since the peak of government employment in 2008, those jobs are down by some 1.27 million positions. Government positions held by white workers have declined by just under a million, and by blacks have declined by 240,000 jobs.

In other words, the decline in jobs held by whites accounts for 77 percent of all government jobs losses, and by blacks equals 18 percent of all job losses.

The Times also suggests that government employment is a crucial road to the middle class for blacks. But there is no accepted government definition of what constitutes the middle class, and the Times is ambiguous, not defining what it considers the middle class. that makes it impossible to test the Times’ conclusion on its own terms.

A website called tracks black household stats by broad income categories. According to the site, nearly 75 percent of black households fall into three separate annual income categories, from $15,000 to $34,999, from $35,0000 to $99,999, and from $100,000 to $199,999 in income range.

It’s likely that the vast majority of government workers also fit into one of these three categories, given that government jobs range from upper middle- income positions like school principal to unskilled laborer on the other hand. These categories consist of nearly 11 million black households.

Given that there are fewer than 3 million black government workers, by contrast, it’s unlikely that government employment has anything like the disproportionate impact on black aspirations to the middle class that is often claimed.

The implication behind stories like the one in the Times that perhaps we should avoid downsizing government so as not to harm the black middle class ignores the fact that the only way to stop government from shrinking when the private economy is contracting is by taxing the resources of the private sector more heavily.

Such stories make their case by conveniently ignoring that 80 percent of black workers work for the private sector and many are working class residents and mid-range white-collar workers in the private economy who would be hit by such taxes.

The real threat to the black middle class is a continuing stagnation of America’s private economy.

Steven Malanga is City Journal’s senior editor, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, and a columnist. This was adapted from

Manhattan Moment: Whites hit hardest by public employee layoffs

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