Women left behind in recovery

Monday, October 10th, 2011 

A higher percentage of women are unemployed than men, according to numbers released today by Gallup. More than 10 percent of the women surveyed were unemployed, compared to 8 percent of men. Almost 11 percent of women working part time wanted full time work, compared to 8 percent of men.

Unemployment by the Numbers

Source: Gallup, Oct. 10, 2011
Graphic by Melanie Taube, Investigative Reporting Workshop


Those figures contradict the figures released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government reported that 8.8 percent of men, and 8.1 percent of women, were unemployed in September. The lower rates for women have been consistent throughout the recession, according to the bureau's data. The difference may lie in the definitions of unemployment, which, contrary to logic, doesn't mean simply not working. Or it may be a still more technical reason: The bureau's figures are seasonally adjusted, and Gallup's are not.

Whether women's unemployment rate is slightly below or slightly above that of men, there's no question that the recovery, such as it is, is leaving women behind.

During the recession, “it’s true men lost most of the jobs. They lost about 7 in 10 of the jobs” that disappeared between December 2007 to June 2009, says Joan Entmacher, vice president and director of family economic security at the National Women's Law Center.

But once the recession was over and the recovery was started,” Entmacher adds, “women have lost ground. Men as of September had gained over a million jobs, where women have lost 247,000 since June of 2009.”

In September, the economy added 103,000 jobs, far fewer than are needed to keep pace with workforce growth, but far more than the zero added the previous month. Women took just 4,000 of those jobs, however, and men took the other 99,000, according to research conducted by Entmacher's group. Since June 2009, the women's unemployment rate has been rising, while the rate for men is in decline.

Much of the rest of Gallup's findings confirm trends long-reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That they are becoming common wisdom does not make them less troubling. African-Americans and Hispanics have much higher unemployment rates than whites. People with less than a high school education have far higher unemployment rates than those who attended some college or got a college degree. For people who got education beyond college, the unemployment rate is under 4 percent, the Gallup survey found.

One interesting tidbit was the 9 percent unemployment rate for those with vocational or technical education, which was lower than that for people with some college.  The figure suggests that job training programs may be a worthwhile investment, although federal funding for job training is facing cuts under new House proposals.

The challenges facing older job-seekers have gotten significant media attention, but the Gallup data suggests that younger people are struggling the most in the current job market. Among 50- to 64-year-olds, 7.5 percent are unemployed, and 7.1 percent are working part time but would like to work more. Among those 65 and over, 6.5 percent are unemployed, and 9.5 are working but seeking full-time work. But for those just starting out in the workforce, or trying to, the picture is more grim. More than 14 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are unemployed, and more than 16 percent would like to work more than they are now. 

Which means that if you happen to be African-American, female and young, with little formal education, you're having a really hard time finding a job.

“For women as a whole, the recovery was not worst than the recession,” Entmacher says. “it’s just that they’ve continued to lose ground. For black women, the recovery has absolutely been worse than the recession. And for teen girls of color, particularly African American girls, it’s been an absolute disaster.”

This story was published with data from Gallup's new report on employment, released today.

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