Unwillingness to invest in the public sector leads to job loss

by Mary Ann McGivern

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Black unemployment always runs higher than white and Hispanic unemployment. A few weeks back, The New York Times published an article about how the shrinking public sector has hurt blacks disproportionately. They are 30 percent more likely to work for the government than whites and twice as likely as Hispanics. So recession layoffs and the slow recovery are a big roadblock in their path to the middle class. Voter unwillingness to invest in the public sector makes the job loss worse.

There is a lot of work to be done, but we as a society are not willing to pay for it. In schools, we need more teachers. We need more classroom aides and special education teachers for children with disabilities. We need more community colleges and expanded state universities. In health care, we need more rural services and home health care workers paid by Medicare and Medicaid.

We desperately need to repair our infrastructure -- bridges, roads, sewers, aqueducts, railways, Internet access. We need more mass transit. All our government departments -- federal, state and local -- need big-time computer upgrades. They need restored staffing for basic customer services to address Social Security problems, income tax questions, and business and trade issues.

Then there's environmental cleanup. Oil and sludge spills, nuclear waste, plastic bags and cellphones: The work to be done is labor-intensive. Who's going to do it if the public sector doesn't? Even those companies advertised on highway signs as responsible for a stretch of clean road are recruited by government employees who issue equipment, establish safety rules, and make and post those very highway signs.

Why are we so unwilling to pay for these services? The private sector doesn't do most of them because there's no profit in them -- as business is discovering as it tries to manage prisons and schools and hospitals. Firms out to make money are not going to operate daily mail service in rural Missouri or Texas, much less clean up spilled uranium without government support.

And now we see that our buy-in to the mantra that "you know how to spend your money better than the government does" undercuts black employment as well as diminishing our quality of life. When will we ever learn that the common good is our good?

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