By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Looking for job security in economically trying times?
At least get a job in the federal government.
By the way, they’re hiring.
While the private-sector unemployment rate nationwide topped 7.8 percent in May, government workers posted the lowest unemployment rate at 4.2 percent of any class of worker categorized by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Local and governments have trimmed payrolls by more than 630,000 jobs since President Barack Obama took office, the realities of fiscal crises and limitations on deficit spending during and in the hangover of the Great Recession.
Wisconsin’s public sector has taken a big hit over the past year, shedding thousands of jobs.
Local government, however, added 3,800 jobs in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The federal government, meanwhile, has added some 143,000 employees during Obama’s term.
Federal payroll cost taxpayers about $177 billion.
“It is well known that government employees enjoy considerably more job security than private workers,” wrote Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., in a recent paper titled “Only the Public Sector is Doing Fine.” The report criticizes the president’s comments regarding the private sector “doing fine,” statements Obama later refined.
“The steps required to fire tenured public workers are often so arduous that managers are loath even to try,” Biggs said. “Consequently, unemployment rates have been consistently and substantially lower in the public sector than in the private sector.”
While the public sector in 2011 recorded its highest annual unemployment rate at 4.7 percent since 5.3 percent in 1983, the public-sector jobless rate traditionally has run between 2 percent and 3 percent since 1976, when BLS began tracking the government sector.
Nationally, the construction sector posted a 14.2 percent unemployment rate in May, the highest rate of any sector.
Wisconsin’s construction sector shed 3,300 jobs last month.
Tom McDonald, an economist with BLS’ Office of Economic Analysis and Information, said there are no recent data tracking state government employment statistics.
Kevin Wunderlin has worked in the public and private sectors.
The former police officer left law enforcement to operate a construction business before going back to work with the government in 2008. He and his wife, Christine, lead certification training for contractors, a program through the state Department of Safety and Professional Development.
Wunderlin said the construction trade is mixed these days, some are keeping busy, some have little work.
Having seen life from both sides, Wunderlin said the public sector is more stable.
“Things stay more the same,” he said. “In the private sector, when times are good, they are good. When times are bad, you eat beans.”