Cuts to the state and local public sector will disproportionately harm women and Black workers

The coronavirus pandemic has created a severe budget crisis for state and local governments, as tax revenue has fallen precipitously at the same time that governments are facing extraordinary demands for public health and welfare supports. Because states are severely limited in how they can borrow, the only way to address this crisis is through Congress authorizing significant additional fiscal support to state and local governments. Without federal aid, many states will likely make devastating cuts to the services and staffing they provide, sending the country into a prolonged depression with 5.3 million jobs both public and private likely lost before the end of next year.

Failing to provide aid to state and local governments would be not only be an act of needless economic self-sabotage, it would also exacerbate racial and gender disparities. If state and local governments are forced to cut personnel, those cuts are likely to fall hardest on women and Black workers.

Historically, the public sector has been a key employer for women and people of color. During the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government—through executive actions and legislation—adopted various anti-discrimination and affirmative action measures that boosted the employment of women and Black workers in government. Now, decades later, all state and local government jobs are subject to the federal regulations requiring equal opportunity, and some states and localities have additional affirmative action programs. Consequently, state and local government has generally achieved a more diverse workplace than the private sector.

Now, as millions of state and local jobs are put at risk, the disproportionate representation of women and Black workers in those jobs means that, all else being equal, they will disproportionately feel the pain of state and local budget cuts. Figure A shows the share of state and local government employment that women workers represent. For decades, women have made up the majority of the state and local government workforce, and in 2019, they made up fully 60% of all state and local public-sector workers.

Figure A

Women workers are disproportionately employed in the state and local public sector: Women’s share of employment, by sector, 1989–2019

Overall employment Private sector State and local government
1989 47.1% 45.7%  56.2% 
1990 47.0% 45.7% 56.5%
1991 47.3% 46.0% 56.8%
1992 47.6% 46.3% 57.1%
1993 47.7% 46.3% 57.3%
1994 47.6% 46.2% 57.1%
1995 47.6% 46.1% 57.3%
1996 47.8% 46.3% 57.8%
1997 47.8% 46.3% 58.1%
1998 47.8% 46.3% 58.0%
1999 48.0% 46.4% 58.6%
2000 47.9% 46.2% 59.6%
2001 48.0% 46.3% 59.5%
2002 48.1% 46.4% 59.2%
2003 48.3% 46.6% 59.7%
2004 48.1% 46.4% 59.3%
2005 48.0% 46.3% 59.8%
2006 47.9% 46.2% 59.7%
2007 48.0% 46.3% 59.9%
2008 48.3% 46.6% 60.0%
2009 49.0% 47.3% 59.9%
2010 48.8% 47.2% 59.5%
2011 48.3% 46.7% 59.5%
2012 48.3% 46.7% 59.6%
2013 48.3% 46.7% 58.9%
2014 48.2% 46.6% 59.3%
2015 48.2% 46.6% 59.5%
2016 48.1% 46.6% 59.6%
2017 48.2% 46.7% 59.3%
2018 48.2% 46.6% 59.4%
2019 48.2%  46.7%  60.1% 
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Source: Economic Policy Institute analysis of Current Population Survey microdata.

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.

Similarly, Figure B shows that, while the Black share of state and local government employment has grown and then shrunk since the 1980s, it has still remained above the Black share of private and overall employment over the full period. Indeed, the public sector is among the most critical employers of Black workers. As of 2019, nearly half of all Black women (48%) and more than one-fifth (21%) of Black men in the workforce are employed in education, health services, or public administration—the primary industries of state and local government.1

Figure B

Black workers are disproportionately employed in the state and local public sector: Black share of employment, by sector, 1989–2019

Overall employment Private sector State and local government
1989 10.9% 10.1% 14.1%
1990 10.9% 10.1% 14.0%
1991 10.9% 10.1% 14.1%
1992 10.9% 10.1% 14.5%
1993 11.0% 10.1% 14.5%
1994 11.2% 10.3% 14.5%
1995 11.3% 10.4% 14.8%
1996 11.3% 10.5% 14.7%
1997 11.4% 10.6% 15.1%
1998 11.6% 10.9% 14.5%
1999 11.7% 11.0% 14.4%
2000 11.4% 10.8% 14.0%
2001 11.3% 10.6% 13.9%
2002 11.1% 10.4% 14.0%
2003 11.0% 10.3% 14.1%
2004 11.0% 10.4% 13.5%
2005 11.1% 10.5% 13.6%
2006 11.2% 10.5% 13.8%
2007 11.3% 10.7% 13.2%
2008 11.2% 10.6% 13.6%
2009 11.0% 10.4% 13.0%
2010 11.0% 10.4% 12.9%
2011 10.9% 10.3% 12.8%
2012 11.0% 10.4% 13.1%
2013 11.1% 10.6% 13.2%
2014 11.3% 10.7% 13.3%
2015 11.6% 11.1% 13.5%
2016 11.7% 11.3% 13.4%
2017 11.9% 11.3% 13.6%
2018 12.0% 11.6% 13.7%
2019 12.0% 11.5% 13.5%
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Source: Economic Policy Institute analysis of Current Population Survey microdata.

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.

Table 1 below provides a more detailed profile of the state and local workforce with data from the American Community Survey. Notably, state and local government workers tend to have higher levels of education and are more likely to be veterans than workers in the private sector. They also tend to be older on average, less likely to experience poverty, and more likely to be married and have children. Detailed state-level tables with statistics on the overall, private, and state and local public-sector workforce in each state are available via this link.

Finally, state and local government workers are far more likely to be unionized than workers in the private sector. Nearly 39% of state and local public-sector workers are union members, compared with only 7% in the private sector.2 For decades, private-sector unions have been under attack, with employers routinely, and illegally, interfering in workers’ efforts to unionize—despite a broad desire for union representation among private-sector workers. The public sector has done a far better job at protecting workers’ rights to act collectively, despite a barrage of legislative and judicial attacks.

These statistics all show that if Congress does not act to provide budgetary relief to state and local governments, the country is likely to lose millions of middle-class, family-supporting jobs that have offered particular opportunity to women and Black workers. At a time of reckoning for the deep racial divides and tremendous injustices perpetrated against Black Americans—often at the hands of government—it would be especially cruel for Congress to effectively gut one of the most meaningful sources of good jobs for Black workers in America.

Table 1

Demographics of the overall, private, and state and local public-sector workforce in United States

Total workforce Private sector State and local government
Workers Share Workers Share Workers Share
All 140,746,900 100.0% 119,728,800 100.0% 17,301,600 100.0%
Sex
Men 72,283,200 51.4% 63,033,100 52.6% 7,126,700 41.2%
Women 68,463,700 48.6% 56,695,700 47.4% 10,174,900 58.8%
Race/ethnicity
White 86,760,200 61.6% 73,298,100 61.2% 11,301,000 65.3%
Black 16,862,400 12.0% 13,716,400 11.5% 2,434,400 14.1%
Hispanic 24,591,900 17.5% 21,908,300 18.3% 2,246,200 13.0%
Asian or other race/ethnicity 12,532,300 8.9% 10,806,000 9.0% 1,320,100 7.6%
Men of color 27,636,000 19.6% 24,441,300 20.4% 2,379,500 13.8%
Women of color 26,350,700 18.7% 21,989,400 18.4% 3,621,000 20.9%
Not a person of color 86,760,200 61.6% 73,298,100 61.2% 11,301,000 65.3%
Age
Ages 16–24 19,555,100 13.9% 18,061,300 15.1% 1,292,000 7.5%
Ages 25–39 48,576,100 34.5% 42,098,800 35.2% 5,319,600 30.7%
Ages 40–54 42,915,800 30.5% 35,357,600 29.5% 6,198,000 35.8%
Age 55 or older 29,699,800 21.1% 24,211,100 20.2% 4,492,000 26.0%
Educational attainment
Less than high school 12,550,400 8.9% 11,950,700 10.0% 539,500 3.1%
High school 34,510,900 24.5% 31,134,900 26.0% 2,768,000 16.0%
Some college, no degree 31,705,700 22.5% 27,582,500 23.0% 3,237,300 18.7%
Associates degree 13,046,300 9.3% 11,106,800 9.3% 1,550,700 9.0%
Bachelors degree or higher 48,933,500 34.8% 37,953,800 31.7% 9,206,100 53.2%
Family status
Married parent 42,616,000 30.3% 35,128,500 29.3% 6,165,600 35.6%
Single parent 15,623,200 11.1% 13,424,100 11.2% 1,823,000 10.5%
Married, no children 28,292,100 20.1% 23,400,500 19.5% 3,985,500 23.0%
Unmarried, no children 54,215,600 38.5% 47,775,700 39.9% 5,327,600 30.8%
Household income
Less than $25,000 9,909,500 7.0% 8,864,000 7.4% 943,000 5.5%
$25,000–$49,999 21,930,800 15.6% 19,432,700 16.2% 2,173,800 12.6%
$50,000–$74,999 24,921,400 17.7% 21,425,800 17.9% 2,934,500 17.0%
$75,000–$99,999 22,496,600 16.0% 18,951,300 15.8% 2,961,200 17.1%
$100,000–$149,999 30,770,500 21.9% 25,303,200 21.1% 4,444,600 25.7%
$150,000 or more 30,718,100 21.8% 25,751,900 21.5% 3,844,500 22.2%
Poverty status
In poverty 8,257,300 5.9% 7,531,100 6.3% 658,400 3.8%
101–200% poverty 18,776,100 13.3% 17,056,100 14.2% 1,497,500 8.7%
201–400% poverty 43,365,700 30.8% 37,389,300 31.2% 5,111,600 29.5%
400%+ poverty 69,406,600 49.3% 56,974,500 47.6% 9,882,900 57.1%
Missing poverty status 941,100 0.7% 777,800 0.6% 151,200 0.9%
Veteran status
Veteran 8,584,500 6.1% 6,335,600 5.3% 1,133,600 6.6%
Not a veteran 131,549,900 93.5% 112,804,600 94.2% 16,145,300 93.3%
Veteran status n/a 612,400 0.4% 588,600 0.5% 22,700 0.1%
Nativity
U.S.-born 117,037,400 83.2% 98,300,700 82.1% 15,427,600 89.2%
Foreign-born 23,709,400 16.8% 21,428,100 17.9% 1,874,000 10.8%
Citizenship
Born citizen 117,034,500 83.2% 98,299,200 82.1% 15,426,600 89.2%
Naturalized 11,922,700 8.5% 10,306,500 8.6% 1,296,300 7.5%
Not a U.S. citizen 11,789,600 8.4% 11,123,100 9.3% 578,700 3.3%

Source: Economic Policy Institute analysis of American Community Survey microdata, pooled years 2017–2018.

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.

1.  Author’s calculations using the 2019 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group microdata.

2.  Author’s calculations using the 2019 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group microdata.

Enjoyed this post? Sign up for the Economic Policy Institute’s newsletter so you never miss our research and insights on ways to make the economy work better for everyone.