It started out as a “mancession”: Men’s unemployment rates have been higher than women’s for the last three years in the United States, as elsewhere. Now, women may be feeling more fear, if not more pain.
Their overall job prospects are lagging behind those of men, and they are likely to be more sharply affected by proposed cuts in federal, state and local spending.
Heather Boushey, an economist with the Center for American Progress, points out that since the economic recovery officially began in June 2009, private-sector employers have hired a net total of 503,000 men, while jobs held by women have declined by 141,000.
According to a new report by the National Women’s Law Center, women lost about 3 in every 10 jobs cut between December 2007 and June 2009 but filled fewer than 1 in every 10 jobs since job growth picked up in 2010.
Between January and February, unemployment rose slightly among women (to 8 percent from 7.9 percent) even as it declined slightly among men (to 8.7 percent from 8.8 percent).
Men are more concentrated in industries that are both more sensitive to the business cycle and trending down as a share of total employment.
However, women are more concentrated in state and local jobs that are now on the chopping block as a result of efforts to cut taxes and reduce public spending. About 52 percent of state employees and 61 percent of the much larger category of local employees are women – many of them working as teachers, secretaries, or social workers.
Women make up a majority of two important public sector unions, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers.
The economist Randy Albelda asserts that the conservative attack on public-sector unions resembles the welfare reform discussions of the 1990s, in which recipients of public assistance were labeled greedy, lazy welfare queens.
As a recent New York Times article put it, “Around the country, many teachers see demands to cut their income, benefits and say in how schools are run through collective bargaining as attacks not just on their livelihoods, but on their value to society.”
Two memorable signs carried by Wisconsin protesters, still fighting efforts to eliminate public-sector unions there, read “First They Came for the Teachers” and “Care for teachers the way they care for your children.”
Most Americans do. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows widespread support (by a ratio of two to one) for tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers as a means of reducing state budget deficits. But most states, along with the federal government, are moving in the opposite direction.
And many federal and state budget cuts are aimed at programs that provide services primarily to low-income women, such as those offered by Planned Parenthood. Major cuts in support for home and community-based care of the elderly will disproportionately affect women, who tend to outlive their husbands.
Efforts to develop better tools for examining the gender impact of public budgets are just getting under way in the United States.
But it seems clear that as the “womancession” unfolds, women will get cut in more ways than one.