City jobs fall 25% in past two decades Baltimore government employs 9,000 fewer workers than in 1980

Unskilled openings scarce

Despite cuts, city still fills 1,000 positions a year

July 15, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore government continues to drop in rank as one of the city's largest employers, losing about 9,000 jobs over the past two decades.

City government now stands as the fourth largest employer in the city behind federal and state governments and the John Hopkins University, according to the city's latest financial statement.

As in most large American cities, residents view government not only as the manager of city services, but also as a potential provider of stable jobs. But the dwindling of city jobs, in addition to the 40,000 factory jobs lost since 1950, is adding to Baltimore's unemployment woes.

"Historically, the city has been an employer of last resort for people who don't have a lot of skills," city Budget Director Edward J. Gallagher said. "We've had very, very tight budgets and with that kind of pressure, we have continued to reduce size every year."

In 1978, the city ranked among the top three area employers with the federal and state governments, each with more than 30,000 workers.

Much of the city government's job loss can be attributed to the parallel drop in city population and needs for services. At the height of its employment in 1980, the city's 34,835 workers equaled 4.4 percent of the 786,775 population.

That ratio has declined slightly. Today, the city's 25,904 workers equal 3.8 percent of the city's 670,000 population.

While the nation has the lowest unemployment in 30 years, hovering at 4.5 percent, Baltimore's jobless rate remains about 8 percent.

With city jobs dwindling, City Council members say they are having increasing difficulty finding work for desperate constituents. In addition to handling service calls about problems with roads or trash, many council offices have traditionally served as employment agencies, referring constituents to city openings.

"The days when council people used to have a quota of jobs are gone," said Northeast Baltimore Councilman Martin O'Malley.

Despite the plunge in city government employment -- a drop of 25 percent since 1978 -- a recent study by a local political research group indicated that the city payroll could use more trimming. The Calvert Institute, a conservative Baltimore think tank, reported earlier this year that the city has 5,500 more workers than six northeast cities with similar populations.

Despite years of job cuts, the city is hiring. The personnel office lists 24 open jobs. But most are not for the unskilled; they require training, education or field experience. The positions range from arborist to welder, leaving opportunities for unskilled workers such as laborers scarce.

City personnel officials estimate that they fill 1,000 jobs a year. But those jobs replace the 1,000 workers the city loses each year through attrition and retirements.

"There has been a reduction in the number of employees, but there are still a lot of jobs out there," said Baltimore Real Estate Officer Anthony J. Ambridge.

While walking down the street last week, Ambridge was approached by a city worker who held out his hand. The man recalled how the former councilman found him a city job 10 years ago.

"He said, 'You turned my life around,' " Ambridge said. "You get someone a job, they and their families are grateful."

City jobs

Over the past 20 years, Baltimore city government has cut 9,000 jobs. Here's a breakdown of the cuts:

Year ..... Jobs .......... Difference

1978 ..... 34,686 ........ --

1980 ..... 34,835 ........ 149

1982 ..... 34,170 ........ -665

1984 ..... 31,429 ........ -2,741

1986 ..... 28,953 ........ -2,476

1989 ..... 29,558 ........ 605

1993 ..... 26,434 ........ -3,124

1997 ..... 25,904 ........ -530

Total .... ...... ........ -8,782

Source: Baltimore City Budget, 1978-1998

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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