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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Government Job Cuts in a Recession: 'Unprecedented'?

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Mike Groll/AP

In a speech Tuesday at the State University of New York at Albany, President Obama said his efforts to put Americans back to work and end the recession have been hampered by the fact that governments at every level -- state, local and federal -- haven't been adding jobs. That, he argued, was not the case in previous recessions:

And it's worth noting, by the way -- this is just a little aside -- after there was a recession under Ronald Reagan, government employment went way up. It went up after the recessions under the first George Bush and the second George Bush. So each time there was a recession with a Republican president, compensated -- we compensated by making sure that government didn't see a drastic reduction in employment.

The only time government employment has gone down during a recession has been under me. So I make that point just so you don't buy into this whole bloated government argument that you hear.

The folks at Politifact beg to differ with the president's characterization. In an analysis of his remarks, they note that during the double-dip recession of 1980-82, much of which occurred under the Reagan administration, government employment fell by 224,000 workers, or about 1.3 percent. And in fact, during the recent recession, which started in Dec. 2007 and officially ended in June 2009, government employment actually increased.

But Obama appears to actually be talking about recoveries, especially the period shortly after a recession technically ends, but things are tenuous in the economy. Still, even taking that into consideration, his characterization isn't accurate. During the 1980-82 recession, it took until August 1984 -- 21 months after the end of the recession -- for government employment to reach its pre-recession level. The recovery already was well underway by the time the pace picked up on government hiring.

The lack of hiring by governments at all levels isn't helping this recovery pick up speed. But it's not the first time that's been the case. 

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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