Via: America’s Hidden Austerity Program – nytimes.com
[T]here is something historically different about this recession and its aftermath: in the past, local government employment has been almost recession-proof. This time it’s not. Going back as long as the data have been collected (1955), with the one exception of the 1981 recession, local government employment continued to grow almost every month regardless of what the economy threw at it. But since the latest recession began, local government employment has fallen by 3 percent, and is still falling. In the equivalent period following the 1990 and 2001 recessions, local government employment grew 7.7 and 5.2 percent. Even following the 1981 recession, by this stage local government employment was up by 1.4 percent.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Who is losing these local government jobs? In 1981 it was mostly teachers. Now, the losses are shared by teachers and other local government workers alike.
The recall election in Wisconsin was all about people seeing state and local government employees with good incomes and, more importantly, guaranteed defined benefit pensions, something which has eluded a majority of the graying baby boom generation (your correspondent included—I’ve always come on board just after the existing employees have been grandfathered into a DB pension; and I’ve gotten a cash balance plan instead worth literally peanuts.)
Now, given our less than stellar educational attainment as a nation, you might think that abusing the teachers is a bad idea. And it is. Most intelligent people will not even consider becoming a teacher anymore, having heard from friends and acquaintances the horror stories of classroom misconduct and lack of support from and abuse by administrators. The burn-out rate among teachers is high.
So, yes, perhaps government unions got ahead of where they should have been in pay, pension and benefits, and the envy of others was understandable.
But a society that abuses its teachers—and there was a very strong element of this present in the debate in Wisconsin—like a society that abuses its poor—is not headed toward happy or productive times.
At this point in the devolution of the Fourth Turning, America can only increase social tensions—increasing the gradient of inequality across every dimension—until the breaking point of the old social order is reached, and work begins on forging a new consensus.