Women’s fortunes in the job market take a turn for the worse

July 11, 2011

By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

Back in early 2009 I was sitting in the library trying to find a new spin on the U.S. financial crisis for a college paper. I trawled through book after book and they all said the same thing. But finally, late into the night, I stumbled upon something fresh in the latest unemployment report.

Jobs had been slashed in the U.S. and unemployment was rising, but interestingly, women were faring better than men. So there was my story. After June’s jobs report I decided to review this phenomenon and find out whether this was really just a male crisis.

The latest data would suggest not. Although women are still faring better than men: the unemployment rate for women is 8 percent compared to 9.1 percent for adult men and 9.2 percent for the economy as a whole. Women’s employment position has actually deteriorated in the past year.

Back in June 2010 the unemployment rate for women was 7.8 percent, today it is 8 percent. This compares with men, in 2010 their unemployment rate was running at 9.8 percent, today it is 9.1 percent.

Traditionally women and men have a fairly close rate of unemployment, prior to the 2008 crash the average rate for women from 2000-2008 was just below 4.5 percent, for men it was 4.6 percent.

If female unemployment continues to creep back up this is worrying development and deserves closer analysis.

Women were protected at the peak of the crisis as male dominated industries like finance and construction laid off more workers than the overall jobs market. But now that we are in the “recovery” phase this could reverse.  Whereas the unemployment rate in construction has been falling recently, job losses have been increasing in the health and education sectors – both large employers of women. Likewise, public sector unemployment, another large employer of women, has also been rising sharply as government and state budgets get cut.

Balance sheet recessions are rough, and women may find their jobs aren’t so well protected in the coming years. The U.S. is in the process of weaning itself off debt, bills need to be paid and the U.S. needs to learn to live more within its means. The result is reduced levels of consumer spending hitting the service sector including healthcare.

The Federal government and the states have to follow the private sector and clean up their financial act as investors become less willing to lend to a public sector already bursting at the seams with debt. This means even previous sacred cows like education may be on the chopping block, and more women lose their jobs.

Some who read this may think that I am generalising too much and you can’t categorise one sector of work as being traditionally female any more. While that is true for younger women who are better educated and have far more opportunities than women of yester-year, it is a sad fact of life that women are still unlikely to climb the ladder in finance, and you are more likely to see a female head of a local authority or a school than a bank or insurance company.

Let’s hope the next time I review employment between the sexes this isn’t the case.

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