Cuts to state and local governments are particularly hard on women

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.


  • Guest

    Bookmarked, with thanks for a valuable analysis that will be shared, used in classes, etc.

  • Anonymous

    Standing out for me in this analysis: Many of the increased number of women in the workforce include working mothers who contribute to the wealth and standard of living for their families by having a job outside the home in addition to their other responsibilities. The costs of work including child care and transportation are still outweighed by the income gained, if you go strictly by the numbers. The  increased discretionary income can’t be ignored, since it allowed so many to own homes, investments and provide savings for the future, and boosted the economy and the US Treasury. On the other hand, since the 1970s career responsibilities of women and men conflicted with parenting by taking time away from important teaching and bonding experiences. Indications are that the effects of these lifestyle changes may have had more negative than positive impact on family life and for our society as a whole. The generations that followed that era have a very different understanding of basic values and family ties, especially when childcare and values education has been accomplished by those outside the extended family. Recently, I believe some of what the statistics here indicate is that parents, and more women than men, are now willing to re-balance their monetary contributions with the other intangible costs to the family unit. This is a positive change, in my view. Families experiencing financial challenges also find opportunities for emotional and spiritual strengthening of their family, which can extend to a greater sense of community – that can only help the long term harmony of our society.

  • AC

    A valuable, but mislabeled, analysis.  You are not talking about “gender” discrimination.  This is not about workers who are more feminine being out of work; there is no connection between length of fingernails and length of unemployment.  You are talking about disparities between the sexes:  males versus females.  It is astonishing that writers so knowledgeable about economics and progressive in outlook fall into the same puritanical squeamishness about using the word sex as a noun.