Cuts to Public Sector Jobs Disproportionately Undermine Economic Security for Black Americans

Over the past six months, 1.2 million state and local government jobs have disappeared. Data show there were 211,000 fewer Black workers working for governments in September 2020 than in September 2019.

Cuts to Public Sector Jobs Disproportionately Undermine Economic Security for Black Americans

U.S. Postal Service worker James Daniels delivers mail on his delivery route in San Clemente, California, on May 15, 2020 | Getty/Irfan Khan

Washington, D.C. — Due to the coronavirus-induced recession and budget cuts by the Trump administration, millions of government jobs in the U.S. Postal Service and state and local governments are in danger of disappearing. A new issue brief from the Center for American Progress and the National Advisory Council on Eliminating the Black-White Wealth Gap finds that the disappearance of these jobs would disproportionately hurt Black workers at the same time that Black Americans are facing disproportionately bad economic and health outcomes from the coronavirus crisis.

Today, nearly 1 in 5 Black workers are employed in the public sector. The legacy of Black government workers is particularly strong in the Postal Service, where 27 percent of postal workers are Black—more than double the share of Black workers in the civilian workforce. And while the numbers of Black employees in state and local governments are harder to measure, they are a substantial portion of the workforce in states and municipalities around the country.

Decades of organizing by Black people in the labor movement have made public sector work a way for Black workers to build personal economic security through better wages, benefits, and job security than are often available in the private sector while serving their communities. While public sector work cannot solve structural racism or close the Black-white wealth gap, the gap in the public sector is much smaller. For example, in the private sector, white households have as much as $10 of wealth for every $1 Black households hold; in the public sector, white households hold closer to $2 for every $1 of wealth for Black families.

At the same time, the Trump administration’s cuts to the Postal Service and budget cuts by state and local governments threaten this path to stability for Black workers. Over the past six months, 1.2 million state and local government jobs have disappeared. Data show there were 211,000 fewer Black workers working for governments in September 2020 than in September 2019.

“As policymakers from school board members to the Federal Reserve chairman look for ways to address structural racism, it’s important they not undermine one of the few long-standing paths to financial stability for Black workers: government jobs,” said Anne Price, president of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development and co-author of the brief. “Without significant action from the federal government to address the budget shortfalls in both the Postal Service and state and local governments, the economic security of millions of Black Americans may be in danger for the second time in a decade.”

Read the issue brief: “Public Work Provides Economic Security for Black Families and Communities” by Michael Madowitz, Anne Price, and Christian E. Weller