State and Local Jobs Under Siege as a Middle-Class Gateway
OKLAHOMA CITY — The anxiety and seething anger that followed the disappearance of middle-income jobs in factory towns has helped reshape the American political map and topple longstanding policies on tariffs and immigration.
But globalization and automation aren’t the only forces responsible for the loss of those reliable paychecks. So is the steady erosion of the public sector.
For generations of Americans, working for a state or local government — as a teacher, firefighter, bus driver or nurse — provided a comfortable nook in the middle class. No less than automobile assembly lines and steel plants, the public sector ensured that even workers without a college education could afford a home, a minivan, movie nights and a family vacation.
In recent years, though, the ranks of state and local employees have languished even as the populations they serve have grown. They now account for the smallest share of the American civilian work force since 1967.
The 19.5 million workers who remain are finding themselves financially downgraded. Teachers who have been protesting low wages and sparse resources in Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky — and those in Arizona who say they plan to walk out on Thursday — are just one thread in that larger skein.
“I was surprised to realize along the way I was no longer middle class,” said Teresa Moore, who has spent 30 years investigating complaints of abused or neglected children, veterans and seniors in Oklahoma.
She raised two daughters in Alex, a rural dot southwest of the capital, on her salary. But when she applied for a mortgage nine years ago, the loan officer casually described her as “low income.”
At 57, Ms. Moore now earns just over $43,000, which she supplements with a part-time job as a computer technician.