MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Since August 2008, state and local governments have cut 242,000 jobs and that number is expected to grow, with many states facing massive deficits. This public sector drag on the recovery could hardly come at a worse time, just as the private sector is starting to eke out some growth.
NPR's Tamara Keith reports from Atlantic City, where 20 police officers were laid off last month.
TAMARA KEITH: Robert Mooney grew up in Atlantic City and says he decided to become a police officer when he was a small kid.
Officer ROBERT MOONEY (New York Police Department): My best friend was killed when I was younger and it kind of motivated me. I always thought about it.
KEITH: He finally reached his goal three years ago. But then last month he had to turn in his gun and badge. Mooney was among the 20 Atlantic City police officers laid off.
Ofc. MOONEY: You're a police officer, you take care of people, all of a sudden all that is gone. So your identity is tarnished.
KEITH: In total, 39 city workers were laid off in what Mayor Lorenzo Langford is describing as the first round. The city has requested state permission for another 93 layoffs later this year.
Mr. LORENZO LANGFORD (Mayor, Atlantic City): It is never easy. We're talking about people's livelihoods, you know. Things are tough out here. But at the same time there are certain mandates we have to come into compliance with. And so you have to do what you have to do.
KEITH: One of those mandates balancing the city's budget. At the moment, Langford says there's an $11 million deficit.
Mr. LANGFORD: The city of Atlantic City has been caught betwixt and between, as the old timers used to say, in the midst of shrinking revenues, at the same we've had increased expenses.
KEITH: Now, city leaders say the unions could've given up more. And police officers say they're being unfairly targeted by the mayor. And maybe that's what you'd expect from Atlantic City, with its famous boardwalk and infamous history of public corruption. But when it comes to budget problems, Atlantic City is just one of the bunch.
Mr. JON SHURE (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities): We're starting to see more of it around the country and it's not just police and firemen, it's teachers as well.
KEITH: Jon Shure is at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a group that's been pushing for Congress to give more aid to states. He says the revenue picture is starting to improve only slightly, though. The problem is stimulus funds that help state and local governments through the last couple of years are running out.
Mr. SHURE: So you turn off that tap and it sounds like productive belt tightening, but really, it threatens the recovery and makes the quality of life worse for people.
KEITH: This may sound like a whole lot of hyperbole, but even Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress state and local government layoffs are having an impact.
Mr. BEN BERNANKE (Chairman, Federal Reserve): They are still in a cutting mode and seem likely to cut several hundred thousand jobs going forward. So that is a drag on the economy, no question about it.
KEITH: In his report to Congress, Bernanke said these layoffs more than 200,000 in the last two years, are among the things slowing the recovery. But Brian Riedl, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says it doesn't make economic sense to send more federal money to help state and local governments. He says what we're experiencing now is just a normal part of the boom and bust cycle of government spending.
Mr. BRIAN RIEDL (Research Fellow, Heritage Foundation): During booms, money flies in and states run huge surpluses. During recessions, revenues plummet and they often have to lay off a lot of people.
KEITH: Which means there are a whole lot of people out there, like recently laid off Atlantic City police officer Troy Maven, Sr.
Mr. TROY MAVEN SR. (Former Police Officer, Atlantic City): I bought a house right when I went into the academy. Like, right now it's tough. Like, I don't know what I'm going to do. Trying to make ends meet, it's just horrible.
KEITH: He never thought he'd be in this position. He never thought the city would lay off police officers. But it did. And so have a lot of other cities, forced by a soft economy to make difficult choices.
Tamara Keith, NPR News.
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