Last week the Department of Labor reported that employers shed a net 539,000 jobs in the month of April, bringing the nation’s unemployment rate to 8.9%. The manufacturing sector lost 149,000 jobs, business services lost 122,000 jobs, and construction lost 110,000 jobs. All told, the private sector lost 611,000 jobs. So how was the total job loss only 539,000? Because one sector of the economy has proven impervious to economic realities: the public sector. Government actually added 72,000 jobs.

The continued growth of the public sector while all other sectors of the economy contract is no accident. Government employee unions were a driving force in making sure large chunks of President Obama’s stimulus package went to states and cities to preserve jobs. In fact, when you talk about the entire labor movement today, you are really talking about government employees. Less than 8% of the private sector workforce belongs to a union. Contrast that with 37% of all government employees carrying union cards and 42% of all local government employees.

Make no mistake, collecting union dues from public-sector employees (whose salaries are paid by taxpayers) is big business. The Service Employees International Union collects nearly $5 million a month from just 223,000 health care workers. And when the SEIU is not blatantly stealing this money, they are turning it into efforts to elect politicians who promise to endlessly grow the public sector. SEIU president Andy Stern recently told the Las Vegas Sun: “We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama — $60.7 million to be exact — and we’re proud of it.”

And the SEIU is not alone. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, big labor spent over $120 million dollars on just federal elections in 2008. And they have gotten their money’s worth. When the California legislature tried to close their $42 billion budget deficit by trimming $74 million from one of the state’s fastest growing programs, the SEIU forced the Obama administration to threaten to rescind $6.8 billion in stimulus money from the Golden State.

And big labor’s influence does not end there. Despite President Obama’s campaign promise to bring transparency to government, his administration is moving to rescind union accountability and financial transparency regulations. The very same transparency regulations that helped uncover the SEIU’s theft of over $1 million from government health care workers just this past year. Manhattan Institute senior fellow Steven Malanga warns what will happen if public-sector union power continues to grow:

In the private sector … employers who are too generous with pay and benefits will be punished. In the public sector, however, more union members means more voters. And more voters means more dollars for political campaigns to elect sympathetic politicians who will enact higher taxes to foot the bill for the upward arc of government spending on workers. That will be the pattern for the indefinite future unless taxpayers find a way to roll back the enormous power public workers have acquired.

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