For the Family?

How class and gender shape women's work

Smaller Government Equals Fewer Jobs for Women

Why public sector job losses are hurting women's economic recovery

As we approach the 2012 elections, we continue to hear much debate about reducing the size of government. President Obama was roundly criticized last month by conservative pundits when he suggested that public (not private) sector job losses were the biggest hindrance in America’s road to economic recovery. Yet research released this month by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research suggests that public sector job losses have been particularly harmful for women’s economic recovery.

Although men were more likely than women to lose jobs during the Great Recession, nearly three years later, women continue to be recovering jobs at a slower pace. Analysis released this month by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that women have recovered approximately 40 percent of jobs lost from 2007-2010, while men have recovered approximately 46 percent of jobs lost during that period. The primary explanation behind this deficit: public sector job loss.

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Women are more likely than men to be employed in the public sector—in jobs such as teachers, librarians, and municipal workers—and the public sector has steadily lost jobs since the official end of the recession three years ago. In fact, the National Women’s Law Center released a report this month which found that for women, for every 10 jobs added by the private sector, four jobs have been lost in the public sector. Men, on the other hand, have lost only one job in the public sector for every 10 jobs added by the private sector.

We continue to see modest job growth in the private sector. But will this growth benefit men and women equally? If the trends from the last three years continue, the answer is no, men will remain the primary benefits of the economic recovery. Over the last three years, men have accounted for 80% of the net job gains, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Public sector growth is necessary to boost women’s employment and that seems unlikely in the current political climate, as states continue to reduce budgets and cut spending, steps that hurt women’s continued employment.

The sluggish job recovery for women is bad news for families (women, men, and children) and the long-term prospects of the economic recovery, because women’s wages go a long way in protecting families from economic hardship. Today, 80 percent of children live in households that rely on a mother’s paid work and nearly four in ten mothers are the primary breadwinner for their family. Without growth in women’s employment, it will be hard for most families to feel prosperous again.

While it is necessary to continue to promote job growth for all Americans, targeted job growth plans for women would likely increase families’ financial stability and open family pocketbooks again. Looking forward, we need to ask the presidential candidates for job creation plans that focus on women’s employment and target growth in the public sector. New work-family policies that include healthcare, childcare and time off allowances, would bolster women’s employment, benefiting both women and their families and the long-term prospects of our national economy.

Women make up slightly over half the electorate, and nearly half of the labor force. At the start of the recession, women had pulled even with men in the labor force, but with the uneven recovery, women’s overall labor market participation has again dropped below men’s. Job creation plans from every candidate need to take women’s paid work—and the sectors in which they are likely to find work, such as state and local governments—more seriously if we are to build a stronger economy for tomorrow.

Sarah Damaske, Ph.D., is the author of For the Family? How Class and Gender Shape Women's Work. more...

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