For Women, the Jobs Crisis Is Only Going to Get Worse

The "mancession" is behind us. Men suffered 69 percent of the job losses between the onset of the recession in December 2007 and last February, when the labor market hit bottom. Job growth in the 14 months since has been anemic, though men have fared noticeably better than women. While men have regained only a fifth of the jobs they lost, women have done even worse, recovering less than a tenth. 

The job situation for women is poised to deteriorate further. Cuts in K-12 schooling and in services at the state and local levels have already begun, and public officials are proposing ever more draconian measures. More and more states and municipalities are making plans to shortchange the education of our youth and to deny vulnerable children, the disabled and the frail elderly access to Medicaid, health and personal care services. When these cuts are made, it’s women’s jobs that will be on the chopping block. 

With unemployment hovering at 9 percent and household incomes and state revenues still hurting, the failure of President Barak Obama to demand – and Congress to provide – grants to the states to avoid these cuts borders on dereliction of duty. Back in 2009, Congress approved nearly $60 billion in fiscal relief to the states as part of the stimulus package to help state and local governments maintain services. Then in August 2010, the president proposed and Congress passed a bill to provide the states with $25 billion to pay for well over 100,000 teachers and first responders and to help states address Medicaid shortfalls 

But these funds are now running out, and no further relief can be found in the 2012 budgets proposed by the president or by the Republican-controlled House; none is likely to be forthcoming. Instead, states appear intent on throwing people entitled to health or personal care off the Medicaid rolls. Governors have demonized teachers and encouraged local authorities to increase class size and cut spending on education.  

Women have made considerable progress in entering fields once closed to them, but large numbers still work in health care and teaching. Thus, at the onset of the recession, women held almost half of all non-farm payroll jobs, but only 29 percent of jobs in manufacturing and 13 percent of jobs in construction. In contrast, women held 62 percent of jobs in local government, mainly K-12 teaching, and three-fourths of jobs in privately provided education and health services. Low female representation in the industries hardest hit by the recession helps explain why men bore the brunt of job loss during the downturn.

Another reason is that, even as employment collapsed in the rest of the economy, privately provided education and health services added 844,000 jobs, nearly 200,000 of them in home health care and nursing homes. The public sector, meanwhile, added 97,000 jobs. As a result, while women’s employment declined by 2.7 million, job losses were less severe than for men.  

Working in different occupations made women less vulnerable to job losses during the crash, but it now threatens to penalize them as the economy recovers. Since the expansion began, men gained back 263,000 jobs in manufacturing, and are beginning to gain jobs in construction. Women, in contrast, continue to lose jobs in both sectors. In private education and health services, expansion of women’s jobs has slowed. Men held 23 percent of jobs in this sector when the recession began, but gained 37 percent of the additional jobs created. The bigger story, however, is playing out in the public sector. After holding up well during the economic contraction, employment in the public sector has defied the recovery and declined by 284,000 jobs through April, all of them at state and local levels. Three quarters of the public sector job decline was due to jobs lost by women, mostly in K-12 education and other local government jobs. The news for women is likely to get even worse as the school year ends and pink slips go out.

GDP growth is sputtering, down significantly from 3.1 percent in the last quarter of 2010 to just 1.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, below trend growth. Despite April’s gain of 244,000 payroll jobs, the labor market remains weak. Jobs and growth will drive the 2012 elections and on this front the news is not good for President Obama and the Democrats. Maintaining the deafening silence on job creation is likely to cost the president’s party – and the country – dearly.

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