The U.S. economy has created 2.6 million net jobs since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. According to a Los Angeles Times analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, men have filled 2.07 million of these new jobs. There are several possible explanations for this, and a couple of important points to keep this disparity in context:
- Men suffered higher levels of job loss during the recession than women, and their level of employment today relative to pre-recession levels is still lower than women’s.
- Women hold the majority of jobs in the public sector, which is by far the sector that has seen the worst performance since the recovery began.
- Male-dominated manufacturing is recovering, albeit slowly.
- Men are taking jobs in sectors that women have traditionally been the majority in.
The construction sector suffered the largest job losses of any industry during the recession, followed by manufacturing. These sectors are overwhelmingly male, meaning that their initial losses in the recession outpaced losses for women. Even today, unemployment among men is 8.4 percent, while for women it’s 8.0 percent.
Because women have historically filled the majority of public-sector jobs, they’ve been disproportionately affected by state and local governments’ decisions to cut positions in the wake of state fiscal troubles—a phenomenon that has largely occurred since the recession’s end. An EPI report from May found that of the 765,000 public-sector jobs lost between 2007 and 2011, 70 percent were jobs held by women. While the private sector has slowly recovered some of the jobs it lost during the recession, the public sector is still cutting them at a rapid rate; 2011 was the worst public-sector job decline on record. This public-sector employment loss is almost surely the single largest reason for women’s comparative struggles since the recovery began.
Looking at manufacturing, the sector lost 2.018 million jobs during the recession, but has gained 237,000 since, with men’s employment up by 326,000 and women’s employment down by 89,000. Manufacturing is obviously male-heavy (70 percent male in Dec. 2007, the first month of the recession) but this performance means that women’s comparative struggles since the recovery began are even greater than what the simple sectoral composition of employment growth over that time would suggest.
The retail industry, where women held a majority of the jobs during most of the last three decades, is another sector where men have filled a disproportionate share of new jobs since the recession’s end, relative to the sector’s traditional share of male workers. Women have suffered a net loss of 142,000 jobs while men have experienced a net gain of 391,000. This swing means that 51 percent of the United States’ nearly 15 million retail jobs are now held by men.
While women still outnumber men in the financial, education and health care, and leisure and hospitality sectors, men have gained in each sector relative to pre-recession shares and now make up a higher share of the payrolls in each sector (see table below). It would be nice to think that this increasing share of male workers in traditionally female-heavy jobs signified a new era of voluntary reductions in gender segmentation in labor markets. But it’s hard to believe it’s driven by anything but desperate scrambling from both men and women to find any toehold they can in what remains a terrible labor market.
Contributing: Josh Bivens, David Cooper and Robert Scott