Opinion
8:42 am
Fri February 10, 2012

The Nation: Rocky Recovery For Women

Originally published on Fri February 10, 2012 7:17 am

Laura Flanders is a commentator for The Nation.

Three years ago, when President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, he said:

"It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign... we are upholding one of this nation's first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness. If we stay focused, as Lilly did, and keep standing for what's right, as Lilly did, we will close that pay gap and ensure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our sons."

To which there was much rejoicing. Since then, the picture for women regarding work, jobs, chances and dreams has grown bleaker.

Take those January jobs numbers. That official unemployment fell to 8.3 percent from 9.1 percent a year ago was cause for good cheer amongst the instant expert crowd, but the light at the end of the tunnel was harder to make out if you were female, young, old or a person of color.

In January, black women (12.6 percent), black men (12.7 percent), Hispanic women (11.3 percent), Hispanic men (10.7 percent) and single mothers (12 percent) all had unemployment rates substantially higher than the national average. For young people 16–19, it was 23.1 percent. For young African-Americans, it was 38.5 percent. Is this the new normal? (You can read the data for yourself here.)

What constituted good news for women in January was that male and female unemployment were the same for the first time since the start of the recession. When the recession began in December 2007, the official unemployment rate for both women and men stood at 4.4 percent. Over two and a half years later, their unemployment rates finally met — at 7.7 percent. But since the start of the recovery in June 2009, men's unemployment has dropped 2.2 percentage points, while women's unemployment has essentially flat-lined — rising slightly from 7.6 percent in June 2009.

The bad news is that although men lost 70 percent of the 7.5 million jobs that were eliminated between December 2007 and June 2009, men have won 92 percent of the 1.9 million jobs that have been created since then. From "man-cession" we've gone to "man-covery."

One reason is that women represent 57 percent of workers in the public sector (compared with 48 percent in the private sector, where the gains are). They hold a disproportionate share of state and local government jobs — exactly those levels of government that have been shedding workers by the shipload.

As the National Women's Law Center reports:

"Since the recovery began in June 2009, women have now gained 150,000 jobs — a positive change, but still not enough. Why? Because a gain of 150,000 jobs is equal to just eight percent of the more than 1.9 million net jobs the economy has added in the recovery. Women's shockingly small share of the job growth is because they've suffered a disproportionate share of the job losses in the public sector — nearly 70 percent — and have enjoyed less than a quarter of the private sector gains."

Women are finding it harder to find work, and they're still being paid less than men when they are working. Across the board, women earned on average 78.2 percent of what men earned in 2009 according to the US Census. Even in female-dominated workplaces, men were paid better.

This winter, the Retail Action Project (RAP) and the City University of New York (CUNY) released a report that showed a dramatic gender gap in wages in the retail industry. In a survey of 436 retail workers at national retail chains (among them Target, Old Navy and Urban Outfitters), the median gender gap between women and men was the difference between $9.00 per hour and $10.13 per hour. Women were also found to be less likely to receive benefits from employers, or promotions. Hit hardest were the 53 percent of black women and 77 percent of Latina women who earned less than $10 per hour. On that, approximately a third of those surveyed supported at least one family member. (As for all that talk about education and training, just over 70 percent of the workers RAP talked to had completed some college or a college degree. Those with an associate's degree had a median hourly wage of $10 for an annual gross income of $16,640. So much for Newt Gingrich's associate degree ticket out of poverty.)

It's no better among the so-called creative class. To quote Richard Florida in The Atlantic (the same publication that in 2010 brought us Hanna Roisin's ridiculous "The End of Men"):

"Women hold slightly more than half (52.3 percent) of creative class jobs and their average level of education is almost the same as men. But the pay they receive is anything but equal. Creative class men earn an average of $82,009 versus $48,077 for creative class women. This $33,932 gap is a staggering 70 percent of the average female creative class salary. Even when we control for hours worked and education in a regression analysis, creative class men out-earn creative class women by a sizable $23,700, or 49.2 percent."

In healthcare, where women outnumber men three to one, Florida finds they earn less than half as much ($49,877 vs. $109,938). In law, women make up 54 percent of the workforce, and also earn less than half as much as guys ($65,886 vs. $137,680).

From the male-dominated world of the military comes the news that while the number of homeless veterans overall has been shrinking over the last few years, the number of homeless women veterans has doubled since 2006. According to the General Accounting Office (GAO) almost two-thirds of homeless women vets were between 40 and 59 years old, over one-third had disabilities, and many supported minor children (and more than 60 percent of surveyed programs that serve homeless women veterans did not house children).

In Washington, the talk has turned now from "recovery" to how government can boost the male-centered world of manufacturing. I'm all for reviving good, US-based industry with all its positive knock-on effects, but as Abigail Adams once wrote to John, Is it too much to ask that someone "remember the ladies"?

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