By Mike Antonucci
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a treatise of any sort.
It’s just that the March 2013 Employment Situation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has bad news not just for the U.S. economy in general, but for education employees specifically. Most of these workers, including most K-12 public school teachers, fall under the BLS category of “Local government, education.” That sector lost 2,000 jobs in March, and 24,200 jobs since March 2012.
It continues an interrupted downward trend in the public education workforce since its peak of more than 8.1 million employees in July 2008, as depicted by this simple graph.
That’s a 4.4 percent drop in about five years. While that’s a hardship on everyone involved, it only took the four previous years – from June 2004 to July 2008 – to add those jobs to the public education workforce.
If we take the extreme long view, this decline is hard to notice. The BLS statistics go back to 1955, and this is what staffing looks like over the entire 58-year period.
The staffing numbers for 1955 would obviously be inadequate for the student population of 2013. The same for 1985. But since desires are infinite, and resources are finite, how are we so certain that the staffing levels of 2008 were an optimal use of funding?
The economy will eventually improve. Tax revenues will grow, and lawmakers will find ways to spend them. The pressure will be on to restore staffing to pre-recession levels. Before that becomes mired in the usual political wars, wouldn’t this be a good opportunity to ask why?