Donald Trump, in what's been hyped as an "unprecedented" move, has instituted a freeze on the hiring of federal employees. Hyperbole aside (it’s hardly unprecedented, since Ronald Reagan did the same thing on his first day in office), one thing is already clear: this will hurt a lot of people.
Trump’s order exempts military personnel, along with any position that a department or agency head “deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” That offers a fair degree of latitude when it comes to filling positions in certain areas.
But Trump’s appointees aren’t likely to ask for “national security or public safety” exemptions for the many government jobs that help people in ways Republicans despise. So who stands to lose the most under this hiring freeze?
1. Social Security Recipients
Trump and his advisors seem to have had Social Security in mind when they included this language:
“This hiring freeze applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding …” (Emphasis mine.)
While there may be other reasons for this verbiage, it effectively targets Social Security, which is entirely self-funded through the contributions of working Americans and their employers.
Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit. It has very low administrative overhead and is remarkably cost-efficient when compared to pension programs in the private sector.
That hasn’t prevented Republicans in Congress from taking a meat cleaver to Social Security’s administrative budget. That has led to increased delays in processing disability applications, longer travel times for recipients as more offices are closed, and longer wait times on the phone and in person.
Social Security pays benefits to retired Americans, disabled Americans, veterans, and children – all of whom will be hurt by these cuts.
2. Working People
The Department of Labor, especially the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), ensures that working Americans are safe on the job. It's a huge task: Nearly 2.9 million Americans were injured on the job in 2015, according to OSHA data, and another 145,000 experienced a work-related illness. 4,836 people died from work-related injuries in 2016. (These numbers count only reported injuries, illnesses, and deaths; not all are reported.)
OSHA’s employees study injury and illness patterns, communicate safety practices and rules, and inspect workplaces to make sure that the rules are being followed. This hiring freeze will lead to fewer such studies, communications, and inspections. That means working Americans will pay a price -- in injury, illness, and death.
Some 500,000 veterans have waited more than a month to receive medical care from the Veterans Administration. Nevertheless, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer confirmed that Trump’s hiring freeze will affect thousands of open positions at the VA, including positions for doctors and nurses. The nation’s veterans will pay for this freeze, in prolonged illness, injury, and pain – or worse.
Vets will pay in another way, too. Vets make up roughly one-third of the federal workforce, which means they will be disproportionately harmed by this hiring freeze. So will women and minorities, both of whom have a significant presence among federal workers – greater than in the workforce as a whole.
4. Small Businesses and Workers All Across the Country
Contrary to what many people believe, federal employees are work in offices all across the country. The goods and services purchased by each federal worker provide jobs and growth for their local economies. Cuts in the federal workforce will therefore cause economic damage all of the states where federal jobs are located.
According to the latest report on the subject from the Office of Management and Budget, states with the largest numbers of Federal employees are: California, with 150,000 jobs; Virginia, with 143,000 jobs; Washington DC, with 133,000 jobs; and, Texas, with 130,000 jobs.
That’s right: Texas.
Other states with large numbers of Federal employees include Maryland, Florida, and Georgia.
Demand for goods and services will fall with the federal workforce. So will demand for workers, which means that wages will rise more slowly (if at all). This hiring freeze will affect small businesses and working people in states like Texas and all across the country.
5. Everybody Else.
The “public safety” argument could also be used to exempt employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from the hiring freeze. But Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, a longtime foe of environmental regulation who has sided with some genuinely noxious polluters, to run the EPA.
As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times. “In 13 of those cases,” the New York Times reports, “the co-parties included companies that had contributed money to Mr. Pruitt or to Pruitt-affiliated political campaign committees.”
In other words, Pruitt is dirty. It’s unlikely he’ll seek a “public safety” exemption for the inspectors that identify industrial polluters and bring them to justice. So another group that will suffer under this freeze, without getting too cute about it, is pretty much anybody who drinks water or breathes air. That covers just about everybody.
And that’s just the beginning.
This is not an all-inclusive list. We've left out tourists, for example, who'll pay the price for staffing cuts at the nation's monuments and national parks. But the overall impact of Trump's hiring freeze is clear: it shows a reckless disregard for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people.
(And that’s not even counting his plan to end the Affordable Care Act. Physicians Steffie Woolhandler and David Emmelstein estimate that this will result in 43,000 deaths every year. And they’re not Democratic partisans or ACA apologists; they’ve been fighting for single-payer healthcare for years.)
Given these implications – and the thousands of jobs affected at the VA alone – it was surprising to read, in Politico, that “Trump’s move, by itself, doesn’t actually do much.”
That’s true, in one way. The 10,000 to 20,000 jobs affected by this freeze pale in comparison to the federal government’s total workforce of 2.2 million.
But Trump’s just getting started. His memo instructs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a broader long-term plan for reducing the federal workforce through attrition. And Trump’s choice for that job, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, is a far-right Republican who’s been fighting to cut the federal government for years.
This freeze is a bad idea, but there will be more where this came from.