Paul Krugman and Jared Bernstein have written recently of the seemingly contradictory forces at work today in government policy. On the one hand are the stimulus efforts of the Obama administration and the federal government, which have had a measurable impact in reducing unemployment and aiding the recovery. On the other hand are the dramatic cuts to state and local budgets that these governments have made in the wake of the Great Recession. States have had to deal with the largest drop in state revenues ever recorded, and the resulting deficits have meant huge jobs losses among state and local workers.
I have commented on these job losses a few times before, so this time around I want to highlight the gender dynamics a bit. These cuts to state and local government workforces, while a significant drag on the economy as a whole, are particularly damaging for women. In 2011, women made up 46.6 percent of the overall labor force, but among state and local workers, about 60 percent are women. Because women are so disproportionately represented in state and local jobs, they also have taken the brunt of the job losses in state and local governments. Of the net change in total state and local employment between 2007 and 2011—a decline of roughly 765,000 jobs—70 percent of the drop is from female employees. Today, there are about 540,000 fewer women in state and local jobs than in 2007, compared with about 225,000 fewer men.
One other way to look at this is through the proportion of people from state and local jobs currently unemployed. According to the Current Population Survey, in 2011 women made up about 62 percent of those who reported that they were unemployed and that their most recent job was from the state or local government sector. This is lower than the female share of the net change in state and local jobs mentioned above, suggesting that some of the women who lost state and local jobs since the recession have either found private sector work or exited the labor force. Nevertheless, it is still larger than the overall female share of state and local employees.
It’s worth noting that since the recession began, men have faced larger job losses than women in the private sector. But as of Jan. 2012, the overall unemployment rate for both genders is the same at 8.3 percent. In fact, when you look at the gender breakdown of the employment to population ratio—the proportion of the total population currently employed—the most recent figures show improvement only for men. The ratio for men declined from 69.8 percent in 2007 to a low of 63.3 percent in Dec. 2009. It has since risen a bit, up to 64.5 percent in Jan. 2012 (still one of the lowest percentages on record.) For women, however, the employment to population ratio in 2007 was 56.6 percent and it has fallen virtually every month since then, hitting 52.9 percent in Jan. 2012. It has not been that low since 1987.