Part-time workers closing the gap for state government

According to census data, cash strapped state governments are firing public employees and replacing them with part-timers at an increased rate. Census numbers show that nationwide, state governments have lost over 200,000 public employees leaving much of the work to be done by part time employees. Many states are grappling with the cost of pensions and benefits for their public employees while overall revenue bases keep shrinking leading to layoffs and public fights over benefits. And yet, the work required to maintain a functioning government remains leading to compromises like a rise in part-time positions.

Part-time employment in state and local government is up over 4% nationally. These positions often represent lower employment and benefits costs on the state budget, but they also degrade the overall employment picture for states. Full-time government employees are typically middle class while their part-time counterparts are not. Part-time employees often have multiple positions and lack benefits creating a strain on other systems like health care. Trimming full-time benefits, often has a similar degrading effect.

Other compromises have included forced furlough days, or cuts in the amount of allowed hours for non-emergency personnel. However, none of these options seems to solve perennial budget problems.

In states like Ohio, where they have cut over 12,000 full time positions from state and local governments, core budget issues in the state remain unchanged overall. The same is true for states like California which cut over 60,000 positions. The number of public employees on state payrolls doesn’t address broader issues including the rising cost of education, health care or consistently decreasing revenues. This witches brew of budget conditions is only expected to get worse as what’s left of one-time stimulus dollars get used up.

Questions also arise about the net effectiveness of relying on part-time workers to perform core government functions. Part-time employment can have higher rates of turnover, lower skilled workers and increase overall transaction timelines if offices are closed when they used to be open. We are left to wonder what happens next for state governments, as lay-offs are also a one-time fix in a bad budget cycle.