Only Doom Without the Denominator

The Obama administration tried to turn the doom-and-gloom up a notch over the weekend, releasing reports on how many employees each state could lose if sequestration isn’t stopped. Teachers were prominently featured, of course, because nothing scares people like the prospect of their kids not getting educated.

“Could” is a crucial word here, because it is entirely possible that savings could be found that would negate the need to dismiss people. For instance, unnecessary purchases could be cancelled, or all employees could take small pay cuts. But suppose worst-case firings did come. How horrific would the education damage be?

It turns out, once you look at the overall staffing picture, not very. Using a compilation of the state reports put together by the Washington Post, as well as Digest of Education Statistics staffing data, we assembled the following table calculating how big a percentage of public school employees in each state would disappear in the worst-case scenario. Unlike the administration, we included the numerator and the denominator.

  Total at Risk Staff Total Staff Employed in Public Elementary and Secondary School Systems (Fall 2010) Percent Jobs at Risk
Alabama 260 95,144 0.27%
Alaska 40 18,102 0.22%
Arizona 360 96,622 0.37%
Arkansas 150 72,185 0.21%
California 1970 530,337 0.37%
Colorado 220 101,426 0.22%
Connecticut 200 93,088 0.21%
Delaware 40 16,478 0.24%
District of Columbia 0 11,381 0.00%
Florida 1130 333,183 0.34%
Georgia 600 227,188 0.26%
Hawaii 80 21,704 0.37%
Idaho 80 27,783 0.29%
Illinois 760 215,764 0.35%
Indiana 340 138,802 0.24%
Iowa 160 69,615 0.23%
Kansas 140 67,751 0.21%
Kentucky 250 99,225 0.25%
Louisiana 340 100,881 0.34%
Maine 70 32,549 0.22%
Maryland 320 115,367 0.28%
Massachusetts 350 122,057 0.29%
Michigan 540 193,487 0.28%
Minnesota 210 108,993 0.19%
Mississippi 150 67,866 0.22%
Missouri 300 128,289 0.23%
Montana 40 19,249 0.21%
Nebraska 80 45,509 0.18%
Nevada 170 33,400 0.51%
New Hampshire 30 32,955 0.09%
New Jersey 370 202,634 0.18%
New Mexico 130 46,519 0.28%
New York 1030 413,971 0.25%
North Carolina 550 193,039 0.28%
North Dakota 40 16,239 0.25%
Ohio 620 241,212 0.26%
Oklahoma 160 82,262 0.19%
Oregon 220 63,603 0.35%
Pennsylvania 620 266,796 0.23%
Rhode Island 50 18,632 0.27%
South Carolina 270 65,508 0.41%
South Dakota 40 19,545 0.20%
Tennessee 340 128,197 0.27%
Texas 1550 665,419 0.23%
Utah 160 52,341 0.31%
Vermont 40 18,485 0.22%
Virginia 360 201,047 0.18%
Washington 300 103,783 0.29%
West Virginia 120 39,270 0.31%
Wisconsin 240 103,901 0.23%
Wyoming 40 16,424 0.24%

We are clearly not talking about big cuts here, at least in percentage terms. The biggest possible hit would be felt in Nevada, which would see a one-half-of-one-percent staffing drop. Everyone else would see between no cut (Washington, DC) and a 0.41% trimming (South Carolina). In other words, there would be mere employment shaving, not devastating, mass-firing events. And when you put this into further context by pointing that there have been decades of huge employment growth, it is clear: These reports aren’t intended to inform the public. They are intended to scare it.