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Federal Hiring Freeze To Hit Rural and Minority Communities the Hardest

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President Donald Trump issued a memorandum last month freezing the hiring of civilian employees throughout the federal government with the exception of military personnel and “to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” The order specifies that contracting “to circumvent the intent of this memorandum shall not be permitted.” In addition, it directs the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a plan to reduce the size of the federal government through attrition. Under this order, except in “limited circumstances,” any federal agency jobs vacant as of noon on January 22, 2017 cannot be filled.

The hiring freeze is item No. 2 on Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter,” highlighted as a measure “to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC.” But economic analysts say it will do nothing to boost the overall job market. And a look at those who will be hardest hit by the freeze shows that it will disproportionately impact rural communities and communities of color.

According to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), more than 85 percent of federal workers live and work outside of Washington, D.C. Among the states that rely most heavily on federal jobs are Alaska, Wyoming, Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Montana, Alabama and New Mexico. These jobs are lifelines in places where there are few other options.

How will blocking the hiring of a school bus driver for the Tsiya Day School in Zia Pueblo, New Mexico, address corruption? A special education teacher at the Ojibwa Indian School in Belcourt, North Dakota? A Department of Interior park guide in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, or a Veterans Administration food service worker in Chillicothe, Ohio? All are current job openings the president’s action will leave unfilled.

The freeze, said public services workers union AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) president Lee Saunders in a statement, “will make federal agencies less effective, hurting people and communities that depend on efficient public services. It may mean unsafe workplaces aren’t inspected, lower quality health care for our veterans, and longer wait times at Social Security Administration offices.”

“This really affects small communities,” says Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. He points out the order will also affect a lot of veterans, who have priority for hiring in federal agencies.

“This is a short sighted and bad policy,” says Stettner. “It’s a giant axe that comes down and ends up hurting the kinds of communities Donald Trump said he was going to support.”

Ballooning federal employment a myth
Press secretary Sean Spicer has said the hiring freeze “counters [the] dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years.” But according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the federal government workforce made up of civilians has remained more or less consistent for the past 50 years. While there have been ups and downs in federal hiring, if postal service workers are included and U.S. population growth is factored in, “the federal government has barely grown in recent years,” explains PolitiFact. Currently, less than 2 percent of American workers are federal employees.

Loss of access to jobs under a federal hiring freeze will hit black Americans, and black women, particularly hard. Office of Personnel Management statistics show that blacks make up a higher proportion of the federal workforce than the private sector, and more than half of these workers are women.

Also among the hardest hit are communities that rely on federal land management agencies—among them the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management—and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service. Communities that rely on federal prison and veterans center employment will also suffer potential job losses.

On February 1, Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs wrote to Trump urging him to exclude from the freeze federal agencies providing essential services to Native communities, especially the Indian Health Service (IHS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).

“Even before the hiring freeze was announced, Federal agencies that provide these services were struggling to recruit and retain a qualified workforce,” wrote the senators, led by committee vice-chairman Tom Udall.

As the letter explained, IHS medical facilities, which provide primary and preventative health care to about 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, predominantly in rural areas, regularly face 20 percent or greater vacancy rates for doctors, nurses and other clinical staff. On February 17, the Department of Health and Human Services responded saying that IHS clinical staff would be exempt from the federal hiring freeze. The committee Democrats called this “a step in the right direction.”

Other community programs may still be subject to the freeze. On January 31, the Office of Personnel Management issued guidelines about exemptions but they have not yet been clarified. “We have no idea how broadly these agencies will be able to construe that guidance. It does not appear to answer the question of whether positions like teachers or other education personnel could receive an exemption,” Udall’s communications director, Jennifer Talhelm, explained in an email. “We remain hopeful that President Trump will reconsider the hiring freeze as it applies to all Indian programs,” the Democrats said in a statement.

At the same time, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) executive director Jeff Ruch, staff shortages are also a serious problem throughout the agencies responsible for public lands and wildlife management. In a PEER survey, 84 percent of national wildlife refuge managers said they don’t have enough staff to meet their “core conservation mission.”

“This freeze means that the thin green line protecting America’s natural resources will get thinner and, in some places, it will snap,” Ruch in a statement. “How this will affect fire crews, especially on wild land fires, is of particular concern,” he said in a phone interview. “As a management tool, it seems kind of crude and misguided.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called the hiring freeze “a critical first step toward reining in Washington bureaucracy.” But even Chambers of Commerce in Texarkana, Texas and Charleston, South Carolina have expressed concern about what the freeze will mean for local employment.

Freeze will hamper economic recovery
A consistent theme in the 2016 election was the inequity in economic recovery since the Great Recession. The federal hiring freeze won’t help, says Stettner.

“Government employment hasn’t recovered as much as private—at all levels, local, state and federal … You have a president saying he wants to create 25 million jobs in five years but if you don’t want to include government employment, they’re just wrong on what it takes to grow an economy,” Stettner says of the Trump administration.

At the same time, Trump’s base of support was those who identified themselves as struggling to find good, living- and family-wage jobs. Federal government jobs, with benefits that include health insurance, retirement savings programs, paid holidays and sick leave, typically fit that description. With the hiring freeze, “government workers are being pitted against other workers,” says Stettner, a tactic organized labor advocates say has been used to undermine unions.

“One way to see this is a kind of distribution of wealth issue,” says Loyola University College of Law professor Robert Verchick.

If the federal government steps back further as an employer, communities that need these benefits most are likely to suffer. Government jobs, says Stettner, “are a strong set of public goods.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

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Five Groups of Americans Who’ll Get Shafted Under Trump’s Hiring Freeze

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RichardEskowDonald Trump, in what’s been hyped as an “unprecedented” move, has instituted a freeze on the hiring of federal employees. Hyperbole aside (it’s hardly unprecedented, since Ronald Reagan did the same thing on his first day in office), one thing is already clear: this will hurt a lot of people.

Trump’s order exempts military personnel, along with any position that a department or agency head “deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” That offers a fair degree of latitude when it comes to filling positions in certain areas.

But Trump’s appointees aren’t likely to ask for “national security or public safety” exemptions for the many government jobs that help people in ways Republicans despise. So who stands to lose the most under this hiring freeze?

1. Social Security Recipients

Trump and his advisors seem to have had Social Security in mind when they included this language:

“This hiring freeze applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding …” (Emphasis mine.)

While there may be other reasons for this verbiage, it effectively targets Social Security, which is entirely self-funded through the contributions of working Americans and their employers.

Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit. It has very low administrative overhead and is remarkably cost-efficient when compared to pension programs in the private sector.

That hasn’t prevented Republicans in Congress from taking a meat cleaver to Social Security’s administrative budget. That has led to increased delays in processing disability applications, longer travel times for recipients as more offices are closed, and longer wait times on the phone and in person.

Social Security pays benefits to retired Americans, disabled Americans, veterans, and children – all of whom will be hurt by these cuts.

2. Working People

The Department of Labor, especially the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), ensures that working Americans are safe on the job. It’s a huge task: Nearly 2.9 million Americans were injured on the job in 2015, according to OSHA data, and another 145,000 experienced a work-related illness. 4,836 people died from work-related injuries in 2016. (These numbers count only reported injuries, illnesses, and deaths; not all are reported.)

OSHA’s employees study injury and illness patterns, communicate safety practices and rules, and inspect workplaces to make sure that the rules are being followed. This hiring freeze will lead to fewer such studies, communications, and inspections. That means working Americans will pay a price — in injury, illness, and death.

3. Veterans

Some 500,000 veterans have waited more than a month to receive medical care from the Veterans Administration. Nevertheless, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer confirmed that Trump’s hiring freeze will affect thousands of open positions at the VA, including positions for doctors and nurses. The nation’s veterans will pay for this freeze, in prolonged illness, injury, and pain – or worse.

Vets will pay in another way, too. Vets make up roughly one-third of the federal workforce, which means they will be disproportionately harmed by this hiring freeze. So will women and minorities, both of whom have a significant presence among federal workers – greater than in the workforce as a whole.

4. Small Businesses and Workers All Across the Country

Contrary to what many people believe, federal employees are work in offices all across the country. The goods and services purchased by each federal worker provide jobs and growth for their local economies. Cuts in the federal workforce will therefore cause economic damage all of the states where federal jobs are located.

According to the latest report on the subject from the Office of Management and Budget, states with the largest numbers of Federal employees are: California, with 150,000 jobs; Virginia, with 143,000 jobs; Washington DC, with 133,000 jobs; and, Texas, with 130,000 jobs.

That’s right: Texas.

Other states with large numbers of Federal employees include Maryland, Florida, and Georgia.

Demand for goods and services will fall with the federal workforce. So will demand for workers, which means that wages will rise more slowly (if at all). This hiring freeze will affect small businesses and working people in states like Texas and all across the country.

5. Everybody Else.

The “public safety” argument could also be used to exempt employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from the hiring freeze. But Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, a longtime foe of environmental regulation who has sided with some genuinely noxious polluters, to run the EPA.

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times. “In 13 of those cases,” the New York Times reports, “the co-parties included companies that had contributed money to Mr. Pruitt or to Pruitt-affiliated political campaign committees.”

In other words, Pruitt is dirty. It’s unlikely he’ll seek a “public safety” exemption for the inspectors that identify industrial polluters and bring them to justice. So another group that will suffer under this freeze, without getting too cute about it, is pretty much anybody who drinks water or breathes air. That covers just about everybody.

And that’s just the beginning.

This is not an all-inclusive list. We’ve left out tourists, for example, who’ll pay the price for staffing cuts at the nation’s monuments and national parks. But the overall impact of Trump’s hiring freeze is clear: it shows a reckless disregard for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people.

(And that’s not even counting his plan to end the Affordable Care Act. Physicians Steffie Woolhandler and David Emmelstein estimate that this will result in 43,000 deaths every year. And they’re not Democratic partisans or ACA apologists; they’ve been fighting for single-payer healthcare for years.)

Given these implications – and the thousands of jobs affected at the VA alone – it was surprising to read, in Politico, that “Trump’s move, by itself, doesn’t actually do much.”

That’s true, in one way. The 10,000 to 20,000 jobs affected by this freeze pale in comparison to the federal government’s total workforce of 2.2 million.

But Trump’s just getting started. His memo instructs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a broader long-term plan for reducing the federal workforce through attrition. And Trump’s choice for that job, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, is a far-right Republican who’s been fighting to cut the federal government for years.

This freeze is a bad idea, but there will be more where this came from.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on January 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

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This week in the war on workers: Federal job levels are low but Trump wants to drive them lower

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Donald Trump says he’s all about jobs, but at the same time he wants a federal hiring freeze. Supposedly there are just too many federal workers and the government should save money by getting rid of them. Here’s the reality:

  • There were an average of 2.8 million federal employees in 2016, representing only 1.9 percent of the nation’s 144 million civilian[2] jobs. This share ties with 2015 for the lowest federal share ever recorded, with data going back to 1939, and it’s far below its post-World War II average of 3.3 percent. (See Figure 1.)
  • The number of federal jobs rose by just 18,000 (0.6 percent) over the last eight years; in contrast, the number of jobs in the country grew by 11.3 million (8.3 percent) during the same period.[3]
  • The number of federal jobs as a share of the nation’s population in 2016 was tied with 2014 and 2015 for its lowest share on record.

Not to mention, these federal jobs include little things like the Centers for Disease Control, Medicare, national parks, food inspection, and other services and protections that many of us kinda like. “Freeze federal hiring” is something that sounds good to some people if you strip it of the specifics so they don’t think about what exactly is being cut. If Trump followed through with the kind of big cuts he’s implying, chances are it would not be a popular move.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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