All recent recoveries saw public hiring boosting employment at this period in the economic cycle. Downturns at the start of the 1990s and 2000s saw government employment up between 4 and 8 percent across the country by this point, roughly 54 months after the start of the recession, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. The severe double-dip recession at the start of the 1980s saw government jobs take a dive, too, but public payrolls had recovered their losses by now.
But in this recession, government payrolls across the United States are still down almost 3 percent from pre-recession highs. Broward County has 6 percent fewer workers in local government than it did in 2007, the official start of a recession that analysts say ended in June 2009. That’s a decline of 5,000 positions. Miami-Dade County has 11 percent fewer, a loss of almost 12,000 local government jobs. Both figures include school payrolls.
Tracy Gordon, the Brookings fellow who wrote the analysis, said the severity of this recession is to blame for the extended loss in government jobs — particularly the plunge in real estate values. “What’s unusual is this reduction in property taxes,’’ she said.
And while past recessions saw governments at all level make up for lost revenue by increasing taxes and fees, there was less of that this time, Gordon said.
“Despite being hit by a bigger meteor, they relied less on that typical response” of tax increases, she said.
With real estate values off by as much as 50 percent from the height of the housing bubble, local governments saw their No. 1 revenue source — property taxes — plunge during the last six years. Miami-Dade County, Florida’s largest local government, expects to have about 2 percent fewer positions this year than it does this year, thanks to job cuts and hiring freezes.
Administrators are saving payroll costs by training pollution inspectors to check for multiple violations. Before, a body-repair shop would see one inspector checking for the release of hazardous gas, and another for the storage of hazardous liquids. Now, one county inspector checks for both, said Lee Hefty, an assistant director in the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources.
“When vacancies cropped up, we didn’t have to fill them anymore” thanks to the cross-training, he said. “It makes the employees more valuable.”
In Miami Shores, a leafy city of 11,000 residents north of Miami, Village Manager Tom Benton said a payroll of about 130 shrank by less than 10 percent during the downturn. Some management positions were left vacant, the tennis pro for the municipal courts became a contract employee, and workers no longer plant flowers on the village’s medians.
The good news, Benton said, is this year saw taxable values of homes rise for the first time in four years in Miami Shores. The city’s payroll stayed stable in 2012. “I believe we have turned the corner,” he said, “unless something really drastic happens with the economy.”