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Troubling Gender Gaps in Economic Recovery

In terms of raw numbers, all the private sector jobs women lost during the Recession that began in 2009 have now been recovered. However, men are still lagging far behind.

In its most recent study on the issue, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women are employed in  54,623,000 private sector jobs, which represents an increase of 63,000 over the previous high in December 2007. The 63-month gap between those two milestones is the longest period since researchers started tracking the gender of American workers back in 1964.

Men have also been making gains in employment, but the 59,428,000 jobs they currently have is actually 1.8 million jobs below the previous high from June 2007.

According to employment attorneys, the bigger comparative gains women have made is not because of employers favoring female job candidates. Rather, some lines of work that traditional over-represent a female work force have simply fared better than the economy at large.

The most prominent examples can be found in the health care, where women hold nearly 4 out of 5 jobs. Employment in that sector rose continually throughout the larger downturn.

womens employment

Workplace Discrimination

The most recent BLS figures suggest that men working in that field have increased 15.8% since January 2008, when U.S. employment hit its peak right before the Recession began; meanwhile employment among women has increased by only 9.8 percent. Yet given the large number of women in health care positions, those numbers mean new jobs for more than two times as many women as men.

The graphics in the post compare job growth or decline going back to January 2008. Women hold 0.1% more private sector jobs now than at that starting point, while employment among men remains 2.8% below its level in Jan 2008.

The pool of government jobs has been continually shrinking, even while the larger economy rebounds, and employment in the public sector – for both men and women – is still 2.5% under the rates from 2008.  In 2010 government employment experienced a short rebound when temporary workers got jobs working with the census, yet the overall trend has been one of decline.

In sectors as diverse as manufacturing, information services and finance, male and female workers shed jobs at nearly the same rate in the first year or two after the economy began to decline. But as the industries stabilized or began to recover, men were far more likely than women to find jobs. Since June 2009, significant numbers of jobs in all three industries have gone to men, while the ranks of women among jobholders continued to shrink in two of the fields, manufacturing and information services, and stabilize in the third, financial services.

In the category that includes restaurants and bars — in which women hold a small majority of the jobs — men and women lost jobs at nearly the same rate up to the end of 2009. Since that point, as employment grew, men have fared better in landing positions. Over the larger period, male employment in those industries has grown more than 8%, while women have seen their employment rise 5%.

Employment Discrimination lawyers also point out that in the initial months of the economic decline, women came quite close to hitting a new milestone. In October 2009, women occupied 49.99% of all private and public sector jobs in the U.S. (64,819,000 for men / 64,795,000 for women). The gap in job totals came out to a mere 24,000.  Since that point, however, as employment has bounced back, the female share has dropped to 49.37%, with men now holding 1.7 mil more jobs their female counterparts.

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Emery Reddy