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The Great Recession created tremendous hardship for millions of Americans.

One aspect of this recession and its aftermath has been particularly damaging for women and African Americans: the decision by many state and local governments to respond to diminished revenues and budget shortfalls by cutting public-sector jobs.

Because women and African Americans have historically been overrepresented in public-sector employment, they have been disproportionately affected by state and local government budget cuts.

Since the official end of the recession in June 2009, the private sector has slowly recovered some of the jobs it lost during the downturn, while the public sector has continued shedding jobs at a rapid rate.

Indeed, in 2011 state and local governments experienced their worst job decline on record.

The briefing paper next explains the disproportionate impact of state and local public-sector job cuts on women and African Americans, and concludes by contrasting the private sector’s slow jobs recovery with continued employment declines in the public sector.Key findings include: In the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government, through a combination of executive orders and legislation, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex and race in employment and the payment of wages.1 Studies of the hiring practices and wages of the state and local public sectors have shown the effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies, especially in contrast to the private sector.Since the creation of equal opportunity and affirmative action programs, women and African Americans have seen greater employment opportunities in the economy as a whole, but particularly in the public sector (Crosby 2004).Though discrimination in the public sector likely still exists,2 government remains a model of how to achieve greater equality in employment and workplace diversity.While some would argue that the United States’ labor market today is largely free of prejudice and discrimination, a substantial and growing body of research suggests that gender- and race-based prejudices continue to afflict the U. workforce.3 These prejudices often take the form of wage disparities.Today, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, and the situation is worse for African American and Hispanic women, who earn only 62 cents and 54 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to their non-Hispanic white male counterparts (National Women’s Law Center 2012).4 Furthermore, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continues to win settlements against employers in race discrimination cases based on compensation disparities.5 Research buttresses this evidence of wage discrimination with findings of significant race- and gender-based discrimination in hiring. In short, although the American ideal may be to judge individuals by the content of their character, we have not yet guaranteed equal opportunity in all cases.

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