Recovery leaves women behind

Recession hurt male-dominated sectors, but hiring is lagging for women

March 19, 2011|By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun

It became known as the "mancession" because the recent downturn battered industries dominated by men.

But the economic battle of the sexes has taken a turn. While the nation's nascent recovery has been slow and bumpy for just about everyone, it has been almost nonexistent for women.

Of the 1.3 million jobs gained in the U.S. in the past year, 1.1 million — nearly 90 percent — went to men, Department of Labor statistics show. Women gained just 149,000 jobs during that time. If you count jobs since the recovery officially started in July 2009, men gained more than 600,000 jobs while women lost 300,000, the figures show.

"The recovery is really not happening for women at all," said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women's Law Center in Washington. "It's a slow recovery overall, but it's really leaving women behind."

Some of the disproportionate gains by men were expected because women lost far fewer jobs during the recession, but economists say that doesn't fully explain the trend. Economists point out that public sector jobs more likely to be held by women are disappearing. And some hypothesize that jobless men have been making inroads in sectors traditionally dominated by women.

But for women who have struggled for their place in the American work force — from Rosie the Riveter to Carol Bartz, the Yahoo CEO ranked as the highest-paid woman in the U.S. — this is another painful chapter.

For Annie McLhinney-Cochran, 52, of Havre de Grace, the hunt for a new job has gone nowhere for three years. She recently left San Diego to relocate to Maryland with her husband, who had lost a construction job. She has years of marketing and public relations experience and was convinced her prospects would improve on the East Coast.

"Never has it been this tough," she said. "I think women our age, those 50 on up and getting ready to retire, are the ones getting hit the most."

In San Diego, "we were just kind of making it. Some friends and family have helped. My husband had a few odd jobs. I was one of those people hanging on and hanging on," said McLhinney-Cochran. "It's an awful situation, and I don't see a lot of relief."

While women account for roughly half of the work force, a White House report released this month showed persistent pay gaps between men and women at all levels of education, with women earning about 75 percent as much as their male colleagues. Older female workers face greater pay disparity than their younger counterparts — as 25- to 34-year-olds earn 89 percent as much as men, according to the 2009 statistics.

As the nation begins to crawl out of the deep recession, women are regaining jobs at a much slower pace than they lost them. Women accounted for one of every three lost jobs in the recession, but they're filling just one in every 10 jobs added. And unemployment for women is on the rise.

"It's very frightening because long-term unemployment has worsened," Entmacher said. "It's also alarming because women make up half the labor force and women's wages are so much bigger a piece of the family budget. This is a real crisis for families, especially those headed by women."

Experts have been hard-pressed to explain the slower pace of the rebound for women, said Heidi Hartmann, a labor economist and president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on domestic women's issues such as employment, welfare and family. Based on the group's calculation measuring job loss from the start of the recession to the time when employment hit bottom for each gender group, men have since regained 19 percent of lost jobs while women have regained 6 percent.

"In pure numbers, since men lost more jobs, we'd expect them to get more of the new jobs," Hartmann said. "But they do seem to be getting more than their fair share in the sense they are getting jobs back more quickly than women are and have regained a larger share of the jobs they lost."

Charles W. McMillion, president and chief economist with MBG Information Services in Washington, surmises that several trends are at work. Men have regained more of the manufacturing jobs as that sector has strengthened. And many who have been unable to find work in construction or manufacturing have migrated into fields more traditionally associated with women, such as education and health care, or moved into professional services jobs.

"Clearly men lost more jobs in manufacturing during the recession and have likely regained manufacturing jobs," McMillion said. "Men also surely lost lots of construction trade jobs in the recession and … many of these have gotten new jobs now in the areas of job growth," such as health care and hospitality.

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