WASHINGTON - Over the last five years, government employment has dropped by 657,000 as a result of the Great Recession's effects on federal, state, and local budgets. With kids getting settled back in the classroom this fall, it's worth considering how much of that drop has hit public K-12 schools.
Of the decline in public-sector employment in the last five years, around 40 percent (258,000) is in local government education, which largely consists of jobs in public K-12 education (the majority of which are teachers, but also included are teacher aides, guidance counselors, and administrators, among others). Over the same period, public K-12 enrollment increased by 1.6 percent. Just to keep up with this growth in the student population, employment in local public education should have grown at roughly the same rate, which would have meant adding 132,000 jobs. Putting these numbers together (i.e., what was lost plus what should have been added to keep up with the expanding student population) means that the total jobs gap in local public education as a result of the Great Recession and its aftermath is around 389,000 jobs, as shown in the figure below.
A "teacher gap" of this magnitude means not only larger class sizes, but also fewer teacher aides, fewer extracurricular activities, and a narrower curriculum for our children. Furthermore, this number almost surely understates the real gap. Between 2008 and 2012, the share of children living in poverty increased from 19.0 percent to 21.8 percent. A higher incidence of child poverty increases the need for services provided through schools. Instead of meeting this need by hiring more personnel, public schools have been forced to eliminate jobs.
Heidi Shierholz is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute