Public education job losses in April are already greater than in all of the Great Recession

It has been well documented that fiscal austerity was a catastrophe for the recovery from the Great Recession. New estimates show that without sufficient aid to state and local governments, the COVID-19 shock could lead to a revenue shortfall of nearly $1 trillion by 2021 for state and local governments. In lieu of substantial federal investments, budget cuts are certain. But I, for one, did not expect to see the losses as soon as April. As of the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), state and local government employment fell by 981,000, with the vast majority of losses found in local government. And the majority of those local government losses are in the education sector, with a loss of 468,800 jobs in local public school employment alone.

State and local government austerity in the aftermath of the great recession contributed to a significant shortfall in employment in public K–12 school systems, a shortfall that continued through 2019. The figure below shows that, as of early 2020, public employment in elementary and secondary schools had yet to recover the level it had reached prior to the losses of the Great Recession. Furthermore, employment levels in the public education system have failed to keep up with growth in public school enrollment since 2008. As of September 2019, the start of the most recent pre-pandemic school year, local public education jobs were still 60,000 short of their September 2008 level, and they were over 300,000 lower than they would have needed to be to keep up with public school enrollment.

Then, the pandemic hit and local education jobs dropped sharply. More K–12 public education jobs were lost in April than in all of the Great Recession. And that’s before any austerity measures from lost state and local revenue have been put in place. A look at the Current Population Survey reveals that losses in public education were concentrated in certain occupations. While some teachers were spared, namely elementary and middle school teachers, others were not. Half of the job losses in K–12 public education between March and April were among special education teachers, tutors, and teaching assistants. Not only are these job losses devastating to those no longer getting a paycheck, but they negatively impact the education students receive. Other significant job losses occurred among counselors, nurses, janitors, and other building maintenance workers. Without sufficient staffing, we cannot safely reopen schools and get parents back to work—which will in turn hamper economic recovery.

April’s job losses are huge in and of themselves, but it’s an even bigger problem that additional public education job losses have probably already occurred—we will find out more details when the May jobs data comes out this Friday.

What we know from the last recession is that states that preserved or grew their public-sector workforce fared better, with fewer job losses overall, fewer private-sector job cuts, less growth in unemployment, and faster job growth. In lieu of sufficient federal investment, it will be impossible for state and local governments to withstand the expected shortfall in revenues from the current economic disaster and return to their pre-pandemic employment levels, levels still significantly below where they should have been to keep up with student enrollment.

The Teacher Gap

Public K–12 education employment has collapsed: Local public education employment and employment needed to keep up with enrollment, 2003–2020

Local public education employment  Local public education employment at 2008 levels Local public education employment needed to keep up with student enrollment
2003-01-01 7.6974
2003-02-01 7.6974
2003-03-01 7.6912
2003-04-01 7.6985
2003-05-01 7.6950
2003-06-01 7.7315
2003-07-01 7.7791
2003-08-01 7.7252
2003-09-01 7.6675
2003-10-01 7.7165
2003-11-01 7.7025
2003-12-01 7.7031
2004-01-01 7.7120
2004-02-01 7.7199
2004-03-01 7.7483
2004-04-01 7.7538
2004-05-01 7.7767
2004-06-01 7.7607
2004-07-01 7.7575
2004-08-01 7.7669
2004-09-01 7.7743
2004-10-01 7.7828
2004-11-01 7.7975
2004-12-01 7.8032
2005-01-01 7.8219
2005-02-01 7.8311
2005-03-01 7.8209
2005-04-01 7.8294
2005-05-01 7.8402
2005-06-01 7.8188
2005-07-01 7.9047
2005-08-01 7.9073
2005-09-01 7.8787
2005-10-01 7.8646
2005-11-01 7.8756
2005-12-01 7.8830
2006-01-01 7.8822
2006-02-01 7.8869
2006-03-01 7.8906
2006-04-01 7.8961
2006-05-01 7.8839
2006-06-01 7.8678
2006-07-01 7.8999
2006-08-01 7.9352
2006-09-01 7.9726
2006-10-01 7.9502
2006-11-01 7.9545
2006-12-01 7.9568
2007-01-01 7.9598
2007-02-01 7.9533
2007-03-01 7.9563
2007-04-01 7.9654
2007-05-01 7.9743
2007-06-01 7.9646
2007-07-01 7.9457
2007-08-01 7.9918
2007-09-01 8.0086
2007-10-01 8.0230
2007-11-01 8.0344
2007-12-01 8.0547
2008-01-01 8.0535
2008-02-01 8.0647
2008-03-01 8.0679
2008-04-01 8.0620
2008-05-01 8.0781
2008-06-01 8.0862
2008-07-01 8.1194
2008-08-01 8.0919
2008-09-01 8.0853 8.0853 8.0853
2008-10-01 8.0898 8.0853 8.0871
2008-11-01 8.0828 8.0853 8.0890
2008-12-01 8.0836 8.0853 8.0908
2009-01-01 8.0840 8.0853 8.0927
2009-02-01 8.0967 8.0853 8.0945
2009-03-01 8.0937 8.0853 8.0964
2009-04-01 8.0916 8.0853 8.0983
2009-05-01 8.0882 8.0853 8.1001
2009-06-01 8.1084 8.0853 8.1020
2009-07-01 8.0667 8.0853 8.1038
2009-08-01 8.0619 8.0853 8.1057
2009-09-01 8.0123 8.0853 8.1075
2009-10-01 8.0737 8.0853 8.1094
2009-11-01 8.0991 8.0853 8.1112
2009-12-01 8.0716 8.0853 8.1131
2010-01-01 8.0685 8.0853 8.1149
2010-02-01 8.0570 8.0853 8.1168
2010-03-01 8.0580 8.0853 8.1186
2010-04-01 8.0563 8.0853 8.1205
2010-05-01 8.0624 8.0853 8.1224
2010-06-01 8.0486 8.0853 8.1242
2010-07-01 8.0263 8.0853 8.1261
2010-08-01 7.9971 8.0853 8.1279
2010-09-01 7.9192 8.0853 8.1298
2010-10-01 7.9637 8.0853 8.1317
2010-11-01 7.9615 8.0853 8.1335
2010-12-01 7.9535 8.0853 8.1354
2011-01-01 7.9436 8.0853 8.1372
2011-02-01 7.9296 8.0853 8.1391
2011-03-01 7.9249 8.0853 8.1410
2011-04-01 7.9367 8.0853 8.1428
2011-05-01 7.8987 8.0853 8.1447
2011-06-01 7.9605 8.0853 8.1465
2011-07-01 7.8620 8.0853 8.1484
2011-08-01 7.8212 8.0853 8.1503
2011-09-01 7.7980 8.0853 8.1521
2011-10-01 7.8279 8.0853 8.1540
2011-11-01 7.8147 8.0853 8.1559
2011-12-01 7.8042 8.0853 8.1577
2012-01-01 7.7974 8.0853 8.1596
2012-02-01 7.7998 8.0853 8.1615
2012-03-01 7.7945 8.0853 8.1633
2012-04-01 7.7857 8.0853 8.1652
2012-05-01 7.7740 8.0853 8.1671
2012-06-01 7.7782 8.0853 8.1689
2012-07-01 7.7718 8.0853 8.1708
2012-08-01 7.7708 8.0853 8.1727
2012-09-01 7.7688 8.0853 8.1745
2012-10-01 7.7593 8.0853 8.1764
2012-11-01 7.7553 8.0853 8.1783
2012-12-01 7.7712 8.0853 8.1801
2013-01-01 7.7698 8.0853 8.1820
2013-02-01 7.7703 8.0853 8.1839
2013-03-01 7.7746 8.0853 8.1858
2013-04-01 7.7690 8.0853 8.1876
2013-05-01 7.7812 8.0853 8.1895
2013-06-01 7.7578 8.0853 8.1914
2013-07-01 7.7654 8.0853 8.1932
2013-08-01 7.7744 8.0853 8.1951
2013-09-01 7.7732 8.0853 8.1970
2013-10-01 7.7761 8.0853 8.1989
2013-11-01 7.7786 8.0853 8.2007
2013-12-01 7.7607 8.0853 8.2026
2014-01-01 7.7624 8.0853 8.2045
2014-02-01 7.7677 8.0853 8.2064
2014-03-01 7.7780 8.0853 8.2083
2014-04-01 7.7988 8.0853 8.2101
2014-05-01 7.7672 8.0853 8.2120
2014-06-01 7.8159 8.0853 8.2139
2014-07-01 7.8476 8.0853 8.2158
2014-08-01 7.8122 8.0853 8.2176
2014-09-01 7.8376 8.0853 8.2195
2014-10-01 7.8450 8.0853 8.2214
2014-11-01 7.8447 8.0853 8.2233
2014-12-01 7.8490 8.0853 8.2252
2015-01-01 7.8541 8.0853 8.2270
2015-02-01 7.8643 8.0853 8.2289
2015-03-01 7.8526 8.0853 8.2308
2015-04-01 7.8634 8.0853 8.2327
2015-05-01 7.8702 8.0853 8.2346
2015-06-01 7.8728 8.0853 8.2365
2015-07-01 7.8964 8.0853 8.2383
2015-08-01 7.8925 8.0853 8.2402
2015-09-01 7.8494 8.0853 8.2421
2015-10-01 7.8675 8.0853 8.2440
2015-11-01 7.8759 8.0853 8.2459
2015-12-01 7.8754 8.0853 8.2478
2016-01-01 7.8833 8.0853 8.2496
2016-02-01 7.8911 8.0853 8.2515
2016-03-01 7.9047 8.0853 8.2534
2016-04-01 7.9038 8.0853 8.2553
2016-05-01 7.9131 8.0853 8.2572
2016-06-01 7.8750 8.0853 8.2591
2016-07-01 7.9587 8.0853 8.2610
2016-08-01 7.9300 8.0853 8.2629
2016-09-01 7.9208 8.0853 8.2648
2016-10-01 7.9151 8.0853 8.2666
2016-11-01 7.9053 8.0853 8.2685
2016-12-01 7.9111 8.0853 8.2704
2017-01-01 7.9048 8.0853 8.2723
2017-02-01 7.9113 8.0853 8.2742
2017-03-01 7.9170 8.0853 8.2761
2017-04-01 7.9178 8.0853 8.2780
2017-05-01 7.9189 8.0853 8.2799
2017-06-01 7.9130 8.0853 8.2818
2017-07-01 7.9119 8.0853 8.2837
2017-08-01 7.9234 8.0853 8.2856
2017-09-01 7.9309 8.0853 8.2875
2017-10-01 7.9385 8.0853 8.2894
2017-11-01 7.9465 8.0853 8.2913
2017-12-01 7.9403 8.0853 8.2932
2018-01-01 7.9100 8.0853 8.2950
2018-02-01 7.9574 8.0853 8.2969
2018-03-01 7.9492 8.0853 8.2988
2018-04-01 7.9469 8.0853 8.3007
2018-05-01 7.9561 8.0853 8.3026
2018-06-01 7.9708 8.0853 8.3045
2018-07-01 7.9700 8.0853 8.3064
2018-08-01 7.9839 8.0853 8.3083
2018-09-01 7.9665 8.0853 8.3102
2018-10-01 7.9657 8.0853 8.3121
2018-11-01 7.9647 8.0853 8.3140
2018-12-01 7.9716 8.0853 8.3159
2019-01-01 7.9783 8.0853 8.3178
2019-02-01 7.9755 8.0853 8.3197
2019-03-01 7.9824 8.0853 8.3216
2019-04-01 7.9949 8.0853 8.3236
2019-05-01 7.9927 8.0853 8.3255
2019-06-01 7.9869 8.0853 8.3274
2019-07-01 8.0064 8.0853 8.3293
2019-08-01 8.0205 8.0853 8.3312
2019-09-01 8.0270 8.0853 8.3331
2019-10-01 8.0279 8.0853 8.3350
2019-11-01 8.0318 8.0853 8.3369
2019-12-01 8.0392 8.0853 8.3388
2020-01-01 8.0445 8.0853 8.3407
2020-02-01 8.0420 8.0853 8.3426
2020-03-01 8.0370 8.0853 8.3445
2020-04-01 7.5682 8.0853 8.3464

 

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Source: EPI analysis of data from the Current Employment Statistics public data series and U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

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