Report highlights need for state and local government jobs

A new Center for American Progress (CAP) report describes how state and local governments, having already shed critical public service jobs since the Great Recession, have lost 695,000 more since the onset of the pandemic.

Because the services these jobs deliver are critical to society’s functioning, state and local governments must invest in job creation.

We interact with state and local government services daily, often in ways we don’t think about.

“They license hundreds of critical occupations; provide law enforcement services; provide housing; oversee elections; and operate highways, parks, libraries, recreation centers, playgrounds, and museums,” the report states. “State and local governments are woven into the very fabric and functioning of our daily lives.”

The pandemic brought into relief what happens when these roles are not filled. For example, when unemployment claims spiked, there were too few people to process them, delaying payments to families who desperately needed them.

But, the report notes, diminished services are only one dimension of the problem.

Many of the workers who fill these roles are people of color and women, who benefit from the economic security they provide.

“Research has shown,” the report says, “that state and local jobs for Black workers can lead to higher wages and higher likelihood of homeownership. Thus, these jobs can help reduce persistent racial wealth and income gaps. These outcomes are largely due to civil service protections, such as standardized pay scales and higher rates of unionization, which prevent firings without cause.”

Belonging to a union means higher wages no matter who you are. People who belong to a union earn 19.4% more than their nonunion peers; African American workers earn 26% more than their nonunion counterparts; women, broadly, earn 23.8% more; Hispanic Americans, 39.2% more.

The report also warns that a crisis is looming if proper investments in state and local government jobs are not made. Using American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds will help address the problem but it will not solve it.

“At least 75 localities have leveraged the allowable uses of ARP funding to invest some federal relief dollars in government employee wages or hiring, but … this initial investment has not been sufficient to even return to a pre-pandemic baseline, let alone staff agencies at the level needed to deliver services to constituents,” according to the report.

Other ways to bolster state and local government jobs, the report says, include offering better wages, placing a premium on skills over credentials when hiring, offering apprenticeships for hard-to-hire roles and broadening recruitment efforts.

Read the full report.