Workers 3X More Likely to Get Fired in Private Sector Than in Gov't

By Ali Meyer | August 8, 2014 | 5:35pm EDT

(AP Photo)

( -- The chance of being fired from a private-sector employer is more than three times as high than being fired from a government job, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The BLS defines a layoff as “a separation of an employee from an establishment that is initiated by the employer; an involuntary separation; a period of forced unemployment.”

The BLS provides two metrics to explain layoffs and discharges: by either counting the number of layoffs and discharges, or calculating the layoff and discharge rate, which is simply the number of terminations as a percentage of the total number of employees.

As of May 2014, the latest date available for the BLS data, the layoff and discharge rate in the private sector was seasonally adjusted at 1.3 percent. This is more than three times as high as the layoff and discharge rate in the government of 0.4 percent, seasonally adjusted.

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When looking at the raw number of discharges and layoffs, the distinction between the private sector and government layoffs is much larger.

In May 2014, there were 1,491,000 layoffs and discharges in the private sector and 84,000 layoffs and discharges in government, meaning layoffs and discharges in the private sector were more than 17 times more likely than in government.

The concern that terminations are less likely to happen in the federal government was highlighted at an IRS hearing with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 30, 2014, “IRS Abuses: Ensuring that Targeting Never Happens Again.”

James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in Labor Economics at the Heritage Foundation, said that federal law makes it difficult to fire federal employees from their jobs, and IRS officials who may have wanted to fire employees engaging in misconduct would have had trouble doing so.

“The federal government very rarely fires its employees, even when their performance or conduct justifies it,” Sherk said.  “In fiscal year (FY) 2013, the federal government terminated the employment of just 0.26 percent of its tenured workforce for performance or misconduct – a rate of one-fifth that of monthly private-sector layoffs.”

“The system shelters employees who engage in misconduct,” he said.  “IRS officials who wanted to fire employees engaging in misconduct would have had great difficulty doing so. Most federal managers find letting all but the most egregious misconduct slide the path of least resistance. Congress should streamline the firing process in the federal government. The system should serve the interests of the public, not the civil service itself,” he said.

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