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In One Chart: State and local government jobs slump for third-straight month as recovery remains elusive

State and local government employment was lower for the third straight month in October, a sign that governments still may be cautious about adding to payrolls — or that workers may be reluctant to return.

There were 19.04 million workers employed in the state and local sector, according to data released Friday from the Labor Department, down about 70,000 from September. The post-pandemic high was recorded in July, and worker ranks have been ticking down ever since.

Public sector jobs had only just recovered to the level they hit before the Great Recession in November 2019. The COVID crisis hit a few months later, and state and local governments slashed about 1.3 million jobs. October’s data shows the workforce is still down 928,000 jobs compared with early 2020 high.

See: Local-government employment in the U.S. is at a 19-year low

Public-finance experts are watching the employment situation on the state and local level closely. Most think it was austerity policies enacted after the Great Recession that made the recovery from that downturn long and slow.

State and local budgets are in much better shape now, largely because of federal fiscal stimulus, but many have chosen to enact tax cuts and to spend on special projects.

And it’s not just overall budget concerns that may be holding back employment. Some of the social services that governments provide, like healthcare, corrections, and education, may wind up being some of the most difficult openings to fill until the COVID pandemic is more under control.

Read next: Climate risk is hitting home for state and local governments

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