The coronavirus has wreaked havoc in Connecticut’s public sector, further reducing non-education jobs here than in most other states, according to a new analysis from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
But opinions are divided whether that is a bad thing or not.
The state’s workforce has already been drastically reduced in the decade leading up to the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. And municipalities, which have seen state aid for non-educational services stagnate in the past. during the same period, have also streamlined their workforce for a long time.
But for its relatively small geographic size, Connecticut has a significant public sector – even in the absence of a county government – and many policymakers and others say the government here is not done with belt-tightening. far.
“Economies of scale are so important, and not just for businesses,” said Donald J. Klepper-Smith, economist at DataCore Partners who was the state’s chief economic adviser in the late 2000s. If you don’t realize economies of scale and efficiency [in government], then you are losing ground to other states. … Ultimately, these costs are passed on to businesses and residents.
According to a recent analysis by Pew, public sector employment here – excluding education workers – fell 7.6% between July 2019 and July 2021. This ranked second – behind New Mexico with an 8.5% drop – in an assessment of 49 states. [Data from Missouri were not available.]
Employment in education has been particularly volatile. It has declined in most states, as has numbers in almost all job classes, at the worst of the pandemic. But then it bounced back quickly this spring, as more students returned to face-to-face classes, and rose again as districts braced for aggressive summer classes.
Nationally, non-education employment in the public sector is down 5.3% – more than 400,000 jobs – according to Pew analyst Barb Rosewicz, who also noted that declines of 5% or more were recorded in 13 other states besides Connecticut during that two-year period. period.
Current national public sector employment is at a low point just after the Great Recession, which ran from late 2007 to mid-late 2009.
The public sector job loss totals here are somewhat complicated by the presence of two Southeast Connecticut gaming centers. The state Department of Labor counts jobs at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino – jobs generally not associated with government work – as part of the public sector, as they are owned and operated by sovereign tribal nations. .
According to spokespersons for the respective tribes, employment at Mohegan Sun increased from 6,875 to 4,935 between July 2019 and July 2021, and at Foxwoods, it increased from approximately 5,400 to 2,900. games have suspended various activities, and those numbers may change as some programs resume.
But more traditional public employment is also on the decline. The non-education workforce in all Connecticut municipalities lost about 2,900 jobs during the pandemic, and that in the state government fell by 300, according to the Department of Labor. Federal employment here is largely unchanged.
And while casino job losses may not be good in the long run, Klepper-Smith said, national and local taxpayers would be better served if governments learned how to operate without replacing all of those jobs.
Governor Ned Lamont hopes to shrink the state’s workforce even further over the next few years by taking advantage of an expected increase in thousands of additional retirements while using technology to make services more efficient.
The governor hired the Boston Consulting Group last September to oversee an ongoing project, ordered by the legislature, ultimately aimed at reducing personnel costs by $ 500 million per year by the mid-2020s.
But some warn that downsizing is more complicated.
University of Connecticut economist Fred Carstensen, who heads the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, said some of those jobs lost during the pandemic could be indispensable.
“The government is providing really essential services,” he said, noting that many public sector health and social service workers have retired or resigned during the pandemic due to risks to their personal health. .
And while Connecticut has a large public sector relative to its size, it also has some of the poorest urban centers in the country.
Carstensen also noted that Connecticut has much greater wealth and economic output than many other states, and our high quality of life is attractive to many businesses.
“Attrition is a real cause for alarm at a time when demand for utilities is skyrocketing due to the pandemic,” said Jody Barr, executive director of Council 4 of the American Federation of Municipal and County Employees of state.
Connecticut’s largest union representing public sector workers, with more than 29,000 city and state employees among its members, Council 4 has sounded the alarm bells for years as government staff has been downsized to help balance budgets.
Between 2011 and 2018, Governor Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly reduced the size of the state’s executive power by approximately 10%. And analysts and non-partisan unions had warned of understaffing in key departments, including transportation and remediation, even before that time.
“A state as wealthy as ours should be at the forefront, not behind, when it comes to providing quality public services that are essential to a thriving middle-class economy,” Barr said.
He added that the Pew study is “a reminder that we need to correct Connecticut’s regressive tax system, which favors the ultra-rich and corporations while encouraging divestment in our local communities.”
Advocates for towns and villages have also warned that communities have frozen many jobs over the past two years in an attempt to keep budgets balanced without increasing property taxes in a fragile economy.
Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said that while communities appreciate additional non-educational aid in the new two-year state budget, most non-school aid has been stable or declining. for at least a decade. before that.
“This has only put additional pressure on cities to contain non-education spending and personnel,” meaning that the workforce in many local police offices, fire, public works and land use planning was meager even before the pandemic.
“We’re getting to a point where government can’t function effectively, and I think we’re seeing it in some places,” added Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.