Employment report spurs battle over private versus public jobs

The private sector is hiring; governments are firing; and political leaders are battling over what that means.

For months, Republicans have argued that government spending has encroached on private-sector investment, crippling the ability of small businesses to hire new employees. Democrats have countered that targeted federal spending – such as emergency funding to keep teachers and police officers on state payrolls – is the better recipe for keeping the economy going amid the lingering jobs crisis.

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Friday's report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the economy created 244,000 jobs in April -- 268,000 new private sector jobs, minus the 24,000 federal, state and local government jobs that disappeared.

Those figures have not altered party positions a bit. Indeed, both sides are using the BLS report to endorse their very different legislative priorities.

"Our economy continues to suffer from the uncertainty being caused for private-sector job creators by the Democrats who run Washington," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement, blaming Democrats that the 268,000 private-sector figure wasn't higher. 

The Democrats' policies, he added, are "crowding out private investment and punishing small businesses and entrepreneurs who are willing to invest, expand, and take risks to create more American jobs."

Democratic leaders had a different take. They also argued that the jobs numbers could have been better, but suggested that Congress could be doing more to prevent the erosion of government jobs.

"When you have less cops and less firefighters on the streets, how does that create jobs?" Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), told The Hill.

Elshami noted that the GOP's initial 2011 spending proposal – a bill that would have cut $61 billion this year – was estimated to eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. The argument that spending cuts create jobs, Elshami said, "just doesn't hold any water."

Boehner ignited a firestorm in February when he suggested that certain government jobs aren't worth preserving in any event.

"If some of those [federal] jobs are lost in this, so be it," he said.

Democrats pounced on the remark as evidence that Republicans have more interest in shrinking the size of government than solving the unemployment crisis. Democratic leaders have repeatedly accused Republicans of failing to bring any "jobs bills" to the floor this year. 


"This Congress — which received a strong mandate from the voters to focus on job creation — must put forward a positive jobs agenda," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) charged Friday in a statement.

Hoyer is leading the charge for the so-called "Make It In America" package, a series of proposals designed to boost manufacturing and prevent the outsourcing of jobs to foreign companies.

However, much of the disagreement hinges on the parties' differing definition of what a "jobs bill" should look like.

Aside from spending cuts, Republicans want to cut taxes and eliminate a long list of Democratic reforms and White House regulations – things like environmental rules, consumer finance protections and the new expansion of healthcare coverage. GOP leaders say eliminating those provisions will unsaddle businesses and lead to increased job growth.

"House Republicans are squarely focused on making Washington a partner to job creators rather than a barrier by pursuing pro-growth measures such as comprehensive reform of our tax code, reducing trade barriers, and increasing domestic energy production," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Friday in a statement.

Boehner's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The 244,000 jobs created in April were more than the 180,000 new jobs economists were anticipating.

Gary Burtless, economist at the Brookings Institution, said the numbers might have been higher but for a combination of politics and budget troubles that contributed to the drop in state and local government payrolls.

Not only has most of the emergency state funding provided by the 2009 stimulus bill dried up, he said, but the 2010 elections put in power a number of conservative state lawmakers who are more inclined to trim government spending that maintain it.

With unemployment still at 9 percent, Burtless added, there remain plenty of available human resources to potentially benefit both the private and public sectors.

"The problem at the moment is not that the public sector is grabbing all of those resources," Burtless said. "The problem is that the private sector doesn't want to grab [those resources]."