June 01, 2020
Democrats in Congress have been pushing for a large amount of assistance for state and local governments in the next pandemic aid package. The finances of these governments have been devastated by the pandemic, with all of them seeing massive shortfalls in revenue due to the shutdowns and the weak economy that is projected for the months ahead. At the same time, they have had enormous demands for public services as a result of the pandemic, largely due to the need for additional health care spending. The demand for services has been further increased as a result of state and local government efforts to deal with the protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
The Republicans have thus far balked on providing aid to state and local governments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has openly said that states should declare bankruptcy, which would allow them to default on their pension obligations.
Defaulting on the pensions of state and local employees would be a huge hit to African American workers and retirees. They are substantially over-represented among current and retired public sector employees. This is due to the fact that they faced less discrimination in employment opportunities in public sector employment than in private sector employment.
Currently, the African American share of the state and local workforce is almost 25 percent higher than its share of the private sector workforce. In the 1990s, the African American share of state and local employment was almost 40 percent higher than its share of private sector employment. State and local governments provided millions of African Americans middle class jobs that they were denied in the private sector.
Part of the compensation for a middle class job has historically been a pension. These pensions are not a gift from the government, workers sacrifice pay during their working years in exchange for this pension in retirement. Mitch McConnell’s plan to have states declare bankruptcy, and thereby renege on pensions promised to workers, is in effect an effort to take away pay that workers have already worked for. And, the victims of Senator McConnell’s scheme would disproportionately be African American workers.
And Republicans wonder why so many black people are angry.