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Economic Policy Institute Says Government Shutdown Would Adversely Affect Black Workers

shutdown-101-001A progressive Washington, D.C. think tank predicts a government shutdown would hurt Black workers. A report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said Black people make up 20 percent of the federal government workforce. Many of them would be furloughed in the event of a government shutdown.

According to Valerie Wilson, director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE), the private sector has returned to its pre-Great Recession level of employment. But public sector employees are still down 381,000 workers because of government cutbacks. Elise Gould, an economist with the EPI, said we would need 1.8 million public sector jobs to reach pre-recession levels of employment as a share of the population.

Slow public sector hiring might explain why the Black unemployment rate is 9 percent, twice the national unemployment rate. Many Black people were hired by the government in the 1960s after gains made during the Civil Rights movement. These jobs, which paid living wages and had good retirement and health benefits, enabled many Black people to purchase homes and move into the middle class.

However, the Great Recession may have affected Black people even more than mainstream America. Many Black families either lost their homes or saw their home values plummet during the mortgage crisis. And Black people were also affected by cuts to government programs and budgets. According to The New York Times, the Great Recession erased three decades of economic gains in the Black middle class. Additionally, Blacks are 30 percent more likely to work for the government than whites.

“Compared to the private sector, the public sector has offered Black and female workers better pay, job stability and more professional and managerial opportunities,” said Jennifer Laird, a sociologist at the University of Washington, in an interview with The New York Times.

Conservative politicians have openly expressed their hostility towards government employees, especially those who belong to unions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker passed a law that severely curtailed public sector unions, and when he was running for president he promised to make his anti-union fight a national issue.

In an interview with The New York Times, Bruce Bodner, a lawyer for the Transit Workers Union Local 234 in Philadelphia, said all this anti-government worker rhetoric has a racial overtone.

“With public employment in general being under attack, it’s really an attack on these [Black] communities.”

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