State and local governments have lost 1.5 million jobs since February: Federal aid to states and localities is necessary for a strong economic recovery

June’s national jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that there was a 4.8 million increase in jobs, after many states reopened their economies prematurely and accelerated the spread of COVID-19. Despite this uptick in employment, there are still 14.7 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic hit. Of these losses, 1.5 million were in state and local government—a sector that disproportionately employs women and Black workers. In mid-July, BLS released their June state-level jobs report, allowing us to take a closer look at these public-sector losses across the country.

Figure A displays the percent and level change in state and local government employment and private-sector jobs over the course of this recession. In every state and the District of Columbia, with the exception of Tennessee, state and local government employment has fallen since the pandemic took hold. In nine states, more than one in 10 state and local government jobs have been lost since February: Wisconsin (-12.3%), Massachusetts (-11.9%), Connecticut (-11.4%), South Dakota (-11.3%), Hawaii (-10.8%), Minnesota (-10.6%), Illinois (-10.5%), Maine (-10.5%), and Kentucky (-10.2%). Meanwhile, California and Texas have experienced the most public-sector job losses since February: 229,000 (-9.6%) and 112,100 (-6.3%), respectively. Table 1, at the end of this post, displays the state and local employment changes from this map as well as the employment levels in February and June 2020.

These devastating job losses follow a slow and weak recovery for the state and local public sector in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Because of the pursuit of austerity at all levels of government, state and local government employment at the national level only reached its July 2008 level (the prior peak) in November 2019. Just before the pandemic, 21 states and the District of Columbia still had fewer state and local government jobs than in July 2008.

Figure A

Percent and level change in employment since February 2020, state and local government and total private sector, seasonally adjusted

State Change in number of state and local jobs Percent change in state and local jobs Percent change in number of jobs in private sector Change in number of jobs in private sector
Alabama -23,000 -6.8% -6.4% -107,400
Alaska -6,000 -9.4% -12.2% -30,500
Arizona -20,000 -5.4% -5.4% -137,600
Arkansas -8,000 -4.2% -6.1% -65,200
California -229,000 -9.6% -11.4% -1,706,600
Colorado -26,000 -6.4% -8.1% -191,000
Connecticut -25,000 -11.4% -11.3% -165,000
Delaware -4,000 -6.3% -13.0% -52,600
Washington D.C. -200 -0.5% -11.4% -64,500
Florida -21,700 -2.2% -8.2% -653,200
Georgia -25,400 -4.3% -6.5% -257,200
Hawaii -9,900 -10.8% -18.5% -98,500
Idaho -9,700 -8.4% -4.0% -25,700
Illinois -79,100 -10.5% -9.8% -518,400
Indiana -25,400 -6.5% -7.1% -193,600
Iowa -21,900 -9.0% -7.2% -95,100
Kansas -13,500 -5.8% -6.5% -76,600
Kentucky -28,200 -10.2% -9.6% -156,400
Louisiana -13,600 -4.5% -10.2% -169,000
Maine -8,900 -10.5% -11.6% -62,100
Maryland -17,500 -4.9% -12.0% -274,700
Massachusetts -49,100 -11.9% -15.4% -502,500
Michigan -49,100 -8.7% -14.3% -551,300
Minnesota -41,800 -10.6% -9.2% -235,400
Mississippi -11,900 -5.5% -5.4% -49,500
Missouri -29,000 -7.6% -7.9% -194,800
Montana -1,600 -2.1% -6.9% -27,500
Nebraska -12,700 -8.1% -5.9% -50,600
Nevada -6,700 -4.6% -12.2% -153,100
New Hampshire -7,200 -8.7% -12.2% -73,000
New Jersey -34,800 -6.2% -15.9% -576,400
New Mexico -5,400 -3.4% -9.9% -67,100
New York -80,400 -5.9% -17.5% -1,464,400
North Carolina -39,800 -6.0% -8.7% -337,800
North Dakota -6,000 -8.1% -9.4% -33,500
Ohio -57,500 -8.2% -10.5% -507,700
Oklahoma -19,500 -6.4% -5.7% -76,900
Oregon -23,200 -8.5% -9.7% -159,700
Pennsylvania -28,700 -4.7% -12.0% -647,900
Rhode Island -4,700 -8.6% -13.4% -59,400
South Carolina -20,000 -5.9% -7.5% -138,300
South Dakota -7,800 -11.3% -5.7% -20,600
Tennessee 2,500 0.6% -7.2% -195,800
Texas -112,100 -6.3% -7.5% -828,800
Utah -12,500 -5.7% -4.5% -59,900
Vermont -4,100 -8.2% -13.8% -35,500
Virginia -52,600 -9.6% -8.8% -295,900
Washington -48,600 -9.4% -10.7% -313,800
West Virginia -1,100 -0.9% -8.1% -45,100
Wisconsin -46,300 -12.3% -9.8% -253,600
Wyoming -2,700 -4.4% -8.0% -17,600

Source: Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics data.

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Next, we take a closer look at job losses in the largest subset of state and local government: education. Over half (51.0%) of state and local government workers are employed in public schools, colleges, or universities, and nearly a third (31.4%) are teachers or teaching assistants. Public education plays a critical role in our society: Not only is education itself a vital good, but schools are also part of our social safety net—through school-based supports such as meals, health, clinics, counseling, and even housing. In normal times, elementary schools also serve as an important source of child care. This has made schools a prime target for policymakers pushing for a hasty and haphazard reopening, which risks the health of school employees and the families of students (many of whom live with seniors).

Public K–12 education employment has never recovered from the austerity measures that unfolded following the Great Recession and has fallen precipitously during the pandemic. To enable and improve virtual learning, schools will need more resources and staff, not budget cuts. If schools are going to reopen, they should be guided by public health and education experts. This requires enough staff, resources, and personal protective equipment to put the necessary social distancing and safety protocols in place.

Figure B shows the percent and level change in state and local education employment since last June. In 17 states, more than one in 10 jobs in this sector were lost, with more than one in seven lost in Alaska (-21.7%), Hawaii (-21.6%), Wisconsin (-18.9%), Massachusetts (-16.6%), and South Dakota (-14.6%). BLS does not publish data for state and local government employment in Missouri or the District of Columbia. Table 2, at the end of this post, displays the data from this map as well as the employment levels in June 2019 and June 2020.

Please note that the data in Figure B are not seasonally adjusted, because BLS doesn’t seasonally adjust state and local government education employment data at the state level. This means it is not directly comparable to the seasonally adjusted state and local government employment data that we have been examining so far. As a result, we will be looking at the changes between June 2019 and June 2020, rather than the changes since February. As schools close for the summer, there naturally would be a seasonal drop in education employment between February and June. By comparing the most recent data to the same month last year, we are cutting through the seasonal noise to measure the employment effects of the pandemic and recession.

Figure B

Percent and level change in state and local government education jobs, June 2019–June 2020, not seasonally adjusted

State Percent change in number of jobs in state and local education Change in number of jobs in state and local education
Alabama -13.2% -21,800
Alaska -21.7% -6,100
Arizona -8.6% -13,200
Arkansas -4.4% -4,100
California -13.9% -178,000
Colorado -0.8% -1,700
Connecticut -10.0% -11,400
Delaware -4.6% -1,500
Washington D.C. N/A N/A
Florida -6.4% -27,100
Georgia -5.6% -18,500
Hawaii -21.6% -10,900
Idaho -10.9% -6,200
Illinois -6.8% -28,300
Indiana -12.3% -25,500
Iowa -9.9% -13,200
Kansas -6.1% -7,400
Kentucky -12.9% -20,400
Louisiana -3.3% -4,800
Maine -14.1% -6,800
Maryland -5.7% -11,900
Massachusetts -16.6% -39,100
Michigan -7.9% -23,100
Minnesota -9.7% -19,600
Mississippi -5.0% -5,000
Missouri N/A N/A
Montana -3.8% -1,500
Nebraska -9.6% -8,500
Nevada -1.9% -1,300
New Hampshire -9.0% -3,800
New Jersey -5.5% -17,100
New Mexico -4.9% -3,400
New York -7.2% -47,400
North Carolina -6.0% -17,700
North Dakota -6.0% -2,000
Ohio -11.0% -39,800
Oklahoma -4.4% -5,800
Oregon -11.5% -16,300
Pennsylvania -2.0% -6,100
Rhode Island -7.2% -2,000
South Carolina -9.7% -15,500
South Dakota -14.6% -4,900
Tennessee 4.8% 8,000
Texas -7.2% -79,600
Utah -4.4% -5,200
Vermont -5.6% -1,700
Virginia -11.5% -35,700
Washington -13.7% -36,000
West Virginia -12.9% -7,500
Wisconsin -18.9% -36,800
Wyoming -7.7% -2,200

Source: Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics data.

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There is a clear need for policies that will both address the immediate challenges of the pandemic and set us up for a quick, strong, and sustainable recovery. If federal policymakers do not step in to provide aid to state and local governments facing budget shortfalls, the economic pain will only get worse. Without federal aid, we stand to lose 5.3 million additional jobs—in the private and public sectors—by the end of 2021. This aid would require the federal government to take on additional debt, but that is exactly what we should be doing to ensure a strong recovery.

By not providing federal aid, policymakers would also be sentencing the economy to a prolonged depression, like the one caused by the budget cuts imposed in the aftermath of the Great Recession. We should heed the lessons learned from the last recovery, namely that public-sector cuts translated into private-sector job losses, and that states that did not take the path of austerity had a much stronger recovery.

Right now, state and local government workers are on the front lines of the dual health and economic crises, providing public health services, administering critical economic lifelines like unemployment insurance, and adapting to teaching online. State and local governments face restrictions on how they can borrow to fund these services and declining tax revenues are exacerbating their budget constraints. Substantial federal aid is necessary to prevent cuts to their budgets, services, and staffing.

Long wait times for unemployment insurance claims to be processed—or even just to have questions answered—in the early months of the pandemic demonstrated the importance of having well-resourced and adequately staffed agencies to administer public services when they are desperately needed. This means investing in these services during times of crisis and as we recover, so that the next time disaster strikes we will be ready to help those in need. Aid to state and local governments means ensuring that we still receive a range of services that are in the public interest, including trash pickup, keeping roads safe, maintaining sewers, running libraries, and administering support programs.

Finally, nearly three in five (58.8%) state and local government employees are women, compared with fewer than half (47.4%) of private-sector workers. Black workers are also disproportionately employed in this sector, making up 14.1% of the state and local government workforce compared with 11.5% of private-sector employees, as are women of color (20.9% compared with 18.4%). These groups of workers are acutely affected by employment declines since February and would disproportionately suffer from the state and local budget and staffing cuts that are all but guaranteed if the federal government does not step in with substantial aid.

Table 1

State and local government employment, February 2020 and June 2020, seasonally adjusted

State February 2020 June 2020 Level change Percent change
Alabama 340,000 317,000 -23,000 -6.8%
Alaska 64,000 58,000 -6,000 -9.4%
Arizona 369,000 349,000 -20,000 -5.4%
Arkansas 190,000 182,000 -8,000 -4.2%
California 2,380,000 2,151,000 -229,000 -9.6%
Colorado 409,000 383,000 -26,000 -6.4%
Connecticut 219,000 194,000 -25,000 -11.4%
Delaware 63,000 59,000 -4,000 -6.3%
District of Columbia 42,600 42,400 -200 -0.5%
Florida 985,700 964,000 -21,700 -2.2%
Georgia 588,400 563,000 -25,400 -4.3%
Hawaii 91,900 82,000 -9,900 -10.8%
Idaho 115,700 106,000 -9,700 -8.4%
Illinois 755,100 676,000 -79,100 -10.5%
Indiana 393,400 368,000 -25,400 -6.5%
Iowa 243,900 222,000 -21,900 -9.0%
Kansas 234,500 221,000 -13,500 -5.8%
Kentucky 277,200 249,000 -28,200 -10.2%
Louisiana 300,600 287,000 -13,600 -4.5%
Maine 84,900 76,000 -8,900 -10.5%
Maryland 357,500 340,000 -17,500 -4.9%
Massachusetts 412,100 363,000 -49,100 -11.9%
Michigan 565,100 516,000 -49,100 -8.7%
Minnesota 394,800 353,000 -41,800 -10.6%
Mississippi 217,900 206,000 -11,900 -5.5%
Missouri 381,000 352,000 -29,000 -7.6%
Montana 77,600 76,000 -1,600 -2.1%
Nebraska 156,700 144,000 -12,700 -8.1%
Nevada 146,700 140,000 -6,700 -4.6%
New Hampshire 83,200 76,000 -7,200 -8.7%
New Jersey 558,800 524,000 -34,800 -6.2%
New Mexico 160,400 155,000 -5,400 -3.4%
New York 1,372,400 1,292,000 -80,400 -5.9%
North Carolina 662,800 623,000 -39,800 -6.0%
North Dakota 74,000 68,000 -6,000 -8.1%
Ohio 702,500 645,000 -57,500 -8.2%
Oklahoma 306,500 287,000 -19,500 -6.4%
Oregon 273,200 250,000 -23,200 -8.5%
Pennsylvania 609,700 581,000 -28,700 -4.7%
Rhode Island 54,700 50,000 -4,700 -8.6%
South Carolina 341,000 321,000 -20,000 -5.9%
South Dakota 68,800 61,000 -7,800 -11.3%
Tennessee 388,500 391,000 2,500 0.6%
Texas 1,785,100 1,673,000 -112,100 -6.3%
Utah 219,500 207,000 -12,500 -5.7%
Vermont 50,100 46,000 -4,100 -8.2%
Virginia 550,600 498,000 -52,600 -9.6%
Washington 515,600 467,000 -48,600 -9.4%
West Virginia 127,100 126,000 -1,100 -0.9%
Wisconsin 377,300 331,000 -46,300 -12.3%
Wyoming 60,700 58,000 -2,700 -4.4%

Source: Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics data.

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Table 2

State and local government education employment, June 2019 and June 2020, not seasonally adjusted

State June 2019 June 2020 Level change Percent change
Alabama 165,000 143,200 -21,800 -13.2%
Alaska 28,100 22,000 -6,100 -21.7%
Arizona 154,100 140,900 -13,200 -8.6%
Arkansas 94,100 90,000 -4,100 -4.4%
California 1,276,600 1,098,600 -178,000 -13.9%
Colorado 206,800 205,100 -1,700 -0.8%
Connecticut 114,300 102,900 -11,400 -10.0%
Delaware 32,700 31,200 -1,500 -4.6%
District of Columbia
Florida 420,400 393,300 -27,100 -6.4%
Georgia 332,100 313,600 -18,500 -5.6%
Hawaii 50,500 39,600 -10,900 -21.6%
Idaho 56,900 50,700 -6,200 -10.9%
Illinois 414,400 386,100 -28,300 -6.8%
Indiana 206,600 181,100 -25,500 -12.3%
Iowa 133,900 120,700 -13,200 -9.9%
Kansas 120,900 113,500 -7,400 -6.1%
Kentucky 157,900 137,500 -20,400 -12.9%
Louisiana 143,900 139,100 -4,800 -3.3%
Maine 48,200 41,400 -6,800 -14.1%
Maryland 208,500 196,600 -11,900 -5.7%
Massachusetts 235,500 196,400 -39,100 -16.6%
Michigan 292,800 269,700 -23,100 -7.9%
Minnesota 202,700 183,100 -19,600 -9.7%
Mississippi 100,000 95,000 -5,000 -5.0%
Missouri
Montana 39,900 38,400 -1,500 -3.8%
Nebraska 88,200 79,700 -8,500 -9.6%
Nevada 70,100 68,800 -1,300 -1.9%
New Hampshire 42,400 38,600 -3,800 -9.0%
New Jersey 313,000 295,900 -17,100 -5.5%
New Mexico 69,800 66,400 -3,400 -4.9%
New York 657,600 610,200 -47,400 -7.2%
North Carolina 293,600 275,900 -17,700 -6.0%
North Dakota 33,100 31,100 -2,000 -6.0%
Ohio 361,300 321,500 -39,800 -11.0%
Oklahoma 133,000 127,200 -5,800 -4.4%
Oregon 141,500 125,200 -16,300 -11.5%
Pennsylvania 306,100 300,000 -6,100 -2.0%
Rhode Island 27,600 25,600 -2,000 -7.2%
South Carolina 160,000 144,500 -15,500 -9.7%
South Dakota 33,600 28,700 -4,900 -14.6%
Tennessee 168,000 176,000 8,000 4.8%
Texas 1,106,300 1,026,700 -79,600 -7.2%
Utah 117,200 112,000 -5,200 -4.4%
Vermont 30,200 28,500 -1,700 -5.6%
Virginia 310,600 274,900 -35,700 -11.5%
Washington 262,500 226,500 -36,000 -13.7%
West Virginia 58,100 50,600 -7,500 -12.9%
Wisconsin 194,200 157,400 -36,800 -18.9%
Wyoming 28,600 26,400 -2,200 -7.7%

Source: Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics data.

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