Public sector jobs important to economy

October 31, 2012 02:21 pm
With elections looming, candidates are eager to tell voters what they want to hear. We are awash in promises of reducing taxes, slashing government agencies and budgets and creating outlandish numbers of jobs. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But as with most issues, reality is much more complicated than a scripted sound bite. Case in point — while “reducing big government” and “creating new jobs” have become overused mantras among candidates, I haven’t heard any of them say exactly how they would accomplish such a feat. 

Of particular concern is how we, everyday citizens who take for granted so many federal, state and local services, might be affected by cuts to agencies we depend on. While we would all like to see waste and redundancy curtailed at all levels of government, there are both economic and very human costs that need to be considered when programs and/or agencies are eliminated or reduced.   

How might this play out in our local economy? I was surprised to discover that public sector workers account for a whopping 20 percent of Union County jobs (see the Union County COC website). A majority of these are family wage jobs with health insurance and other benefits. What happens when agency funds are cut in an effort to make good on those campaign promises? Jobs are lost, not created. And positions once cut tend to disappear permanently. Loss of public sector jobs can have significant economic impacts on the community as a whole. For example, folks who lose their jobs may be entitled to unemployment, a cost to both federal and state governments. Competition for already limited local jobs increases. Those losing their agency health benefits may end up using the ER as their primary care facility, which contributes to escalating health care costs for everyone. Families may leave the area, which impacts school funding, real estate values, spending at local businesses and our tax base. This negative trickle down also affects the businesses that provide services and supplies to agencies. Think about the publicly-funded projects that right now are providing jobs for engineers, building contractors, motel and restaurant owners, even copy machine and computer repair businesses.    

Regardless of our individual opinions as to the value of specific agencies or programs, I think we can agree that public sector jobs are important to our economy. Think about it this way — if 20 percent of our workforce is public employees, almost all of us know someone who is employed by the government. These people are integral to the structure, function and livability of our community. They are your kid’s favorite teacher, the snowplow operator who keeps us safe on the highway, the caring staff at the VA clinic, the fire and rescue crew that might someday save your life. Which one should we cut? Food for thought — beyond the sound bite.

Kathryn Boula is a resident of La Grande.