Heidi Shierholz and Josh Bivens at Economic Policy Institute explain that cutbacks in the public sector are the key to understanding the current stagnant "recovery" that has turned deep recession into lingering depression. The private sector - while still not robust enough, given the deep trough created by the 2008 financial meltdown - is recovering at a pace consistent with previous recessions. But prior recessions weren't accompanied by cutbacks in state and local employment that we are currently seeing. As Bivens and Sheirholz demonstrate, this strangling of the public sector is the single biggest difference from previous recessions that weighs upon current potential recovery:
(T)he most glaring weakness in the current recovery relative to previous ones is the unprecedented public-sector job loss seen over the last three years. The figure belowshows that private sector job growth in the current recovery is close to that of the recovery following the early 1990s recession and is substantially stronger than the recovery following the early 2000s recession.
Yet, as the figure below shows, the public sector has seen massive job loss in the current recovery—largely due to budget cuts at the state and local level — which represents a serious drag that was not weighing on earlier recoveries.
How many more jobs would we have if the public sector hadn’t been shedding jobs for the last three years? The simplest answer is that the public sector has shed 627,000 jobs since June 2009. However, this raw job-loss figure understates the drag of public-sector employment relative to how the economy functions normally.