Michael Bernick is a former California Employment Development Department Director and Milken Institute Fellow. For more, visit Fox & Hounds Daily.
Total government employment in California has not changed significantly over the past few years.
But this total employment number masks a sharp difference between federal government employment in California, which has actually grown during the Recession, and local and state employment, which has shrunk, as shown on the chart below.
Federal government employment in California increased by nearly 20,000 employees from April 2007 to April 2010–the most recent monthly state report. State government employment increased from 2007 to 2009-mainly due to state education employment-but has declined since. The main decline has been in local government, which peaked in 2008 and has been declining since.
The cities of East Contra Costa County and West Contra Costa County represent what exists of the middle class in the San Francisco Bay Area. These city governments generally reflect their populations: solid, practical, cost-conscious. Nearly all of these cities have been hard hit by reductions in hours, furloughs and pay cuts, as well as layoffs.
Jim Jakel is the City Manager of Antioch in East Contra Costa, and one of the deans of City Managers in California. He was City Manager of nearby Martinez for 13 years and has been at Antioch for the past nearly 6 years.
Since the Recession started in 2007, Jim notes that Antioch has seen its revenues plummet from $47 million to $33 million, a combination of sharp drops in sales tax revenue and property tax revenue. As part of the City’s response, the City workforce has shrunk from 400 to 300, and the City offices are now closed on Fridays to save money.
Jim further notes that the City is engaged in several major transportation projects, including the extension of the BART system out to an Antioch Hillcrest station, and the development of a new Antioch ferry terminal. Both of these projects are bringing needed economic activity to the City, as well as long-term economic gain. However, neither of these projects is bringing significant revenues into the City’s General Fund to prevent layoffs or cuts. Any rehiring by the City awaits the improvement in property tax and sales tax revenues, and this could be a matter of years.
Though Antioch’s reduction in staff is directly the result of the Recession, Jim believes that the City needs to face structural employment issues for future hiring. At the center of these issues is the sharp rise of health and pension costs. The City has begun to address the pension costs through a two-tier system for new hires. However, CalPERS’ staggering investment losses of the past two years have left cities like Antioch at the receiving end of escalating benefit charges that have not been addressed.