Even though the recovery started more than two years ago (in GDP terms), many women aren't feeling the positive effects. While the overall unemployment rate has fallen in recent months to 9 percent, the jobless rate for women has increased during the sluggish recovery.
Between June 2009 and October 2011, the unemployment rate for women increased from 7.7 percent to 8 percent, while the unemployment rate for men dropped more than an entire percentage point, to 8.8 percent, according to a National Women's Law Center analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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"When the recovery started … we saw something quite disturbing," says Joan Entmacher, vice president and director of family economic security at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. "Men were making modest gains. They were adding jobs, and their unemployment rate was going down. And women were continuing to lose jobs, and their unemployment rate was going up. And that has been the story really since the start of the recovery."
Some economists began to refer to the depths of the recession as a "mancession," since the bulk of the jobs lost were among men in male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing. During the recession (defined as December 2007 to June 2009), the economy shed more than 7 million jobs. Men fared worse in the recession, suffering more than 70 percent of the job losses. But strikingly, in the midst of a slow recovery, women have lost 117,000 jobs while men gained 1,140,000—a staggering difference of about a million jobs.
The tables seem to have turned for a number of reasons, most notably ongoing cuts in public-sector jobs in recent years, which have largely affected women. While the private sector has added more than 2.5 million jobs since March 2010, state and local governments have cut more than 500,000 jobs. "The public-sector job loss has been a big reason why the overall employment numbers have been weak," Entmacher says. "And women have lost the large majority of public-sector jobs, so that's the biggest part of the story."
While women represented just over half (57.2 percent) of the public-sector workforce at the end of the recession, they lost a disproportionate share (63.8 percent) of the 578,000 jobs cut in the public sector between June 2009 and October 2011. Entmacher says that's because relief from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—more commonly known as the "stimulus" plan—has run out, and that's forcing cash-strapped states to conduct massive layoffs, especially among teachers, a profession that employs a lot of women.
Most worrying, Entmacher says, is the growing jobless rate for subsets of the most vulnerable parts of the population. Between June 2009 and October 2011, the unemployment rate increased for black women (11.7 percent to 12.6 percent) and single mothers (11.7 percent to 12.3 percent).
Entmacher is concerned that the trend in public-sector layoffs will continue because of the division on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are currently waiting to hear plans from the so-called "supercommittee," which is tasked with coming up with a plan to reduce the nation's growing budget deficit. Entmacher is concerned that the talks will result in more spending cuts. "The big loss in public sector jobs is a self-inflicted wound," Entmacher says. "The gridlock that's going on right now is hurting everybody."