Who has the most to fear from Memphis’ underfunded pension mess?

Thousands of former city of Memphis employees and their families rightly feel betrayed after the City Council voted earlier this month to screw them cut retiree health benefits.

On Tuesday, the council will discuss how to shift current employees away from a pension plan and into the 401(K) style retirement plan most in the private sector have (if they’re lucky enough to have anything).

This latest mess has convened the most racially diverse group of activists/protesters I’ve seen in quite a while. But while there’s plenty of city-sponsored misery to go around, a 2012 report from the Economic Policy Institute suggests that it’s African-Americans and women who have the most to fear.

From the “The public-sector jobs crisis: Women and African Americans hit hardest by job losses in state and local governments” report.

The disproportionate share of women and African Americans working in state and local government has translated into higher rates of job loss for both groups in these sectors. Between 2007 (before the recession) and 2011, state and local governments shed about 765,000 jobs. Women and African Americans comprised about 70 percent and 20 percent, respectively, of those losses.

Here are two charts that illustrate this:

First, the female share of employment by sector, 1989-2011: The top line is state/local government, the middle overall employment and the bottom the private sector.

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Then, African-American share of employment by sector, 1989-2011: The top line is state/local government, the middle overall employment and the bottom the private sector.

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Employment isn’t a pension or retiree health benefits, but as an indicator of financial stability, it’s a close cousin.

The council meeting begins at 11 a.m. Tune in here. Find the EPI’s full report here.

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