While the recession officially ended in June 2009, the economy continued to shed jobs for another nine months. Job creation in the 18 months since the job market hit bottom in February 2010 has been painfully slow. The jobs report for July shows that the U.S. has recovered less than 2 million of the 8.7 million jobs lost between December 2007 and February 2010. This is bad news for all workers – men as well as women, but the situation for women is especially stark. Men have recovered nearly 3 in 10 jobs lost, while women have regained less than 1 in 10. Cuts in public services at every level of government, with the sharpest cuts coming in education, social services, police and fire at the local level, have taken their toll. Public sector employment has declined by 440,000 in the past 18 months, and two-thirds of the job losses have fallen on women. But this is not the whole story.
Women have not fared well in the private sector. Even as employment in manufacturing and construction has begun to tick up, women have continued to lose jobs in these sectors. Women, who lost nearly 900,000 jobs in these sectors while the labor market was contracting, have lost another 50,000 manufacturing and construction jobs. In private service producing industries, where women made up more than half the workforce prior to the recession and where most of the employment gains in the past 18 months have occurred, a disproportionate share of the jobs has gone to men. Private education and health services is the only sector of the economy that experienced steady employment growth through the recession and recovery. The workforce in this sector is overwhelmingly female – at the start of the recession, men held less than a quarter of the jobs. Yet, in the last 18 months, 40 percent of new jobs have gone to men.
A recent report from Bryce Covert and Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute provides an important clue to what is going on. Examining employment trends by occupation, rather than by industry, Covert and Konczal find that women do significantly worse in the category ‘office and administrative support occupations’ than men. Job losses among women, who account for three-quarters of workers in this occupational group, have been substantial. Companies are cutting back on administrative support jobs, requiring other workers to take up the slack and work harder. With so few job openings in the economy, workers are reluctant to quit when asked to do their own job and the job of a colleague who has been laid off. The result is a giant speed-up for workers who still have jobs, and poor employment prospects for women who have been let go. While new technologies are reducing the need for secretaries and administrative assistants, this cannot account for the dramatic deterioration in jobs in these occupations since the recovery began.
The job picture for women is not pretty. Wrong-headed belt tightening by the government slows growth, undermines public education and public safety, and puts women’s jobs at risk. Speed-up in the private sector has slowed job creation for women to a crawl. Until the pace of job creation picks up so that workers have alternatives and employers cannot simply make unreasonable and uncompensated demands on them, the outlook for women’s employment will remain dim.