Where Does the Economic Recovery Leave Female Workers?

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The economic recovery has seen a slow increase in jobs since the crisis of 2008, and women aren’t being left behind — they’re actually leading the pack. While August wasn’t the best month for job growth, adding only 142,000 jobs compared to the monthly average of 226,000 jobs added during 2014, the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows overall female employment has increased by 4.1 million jobs in the last 54 months.

“Since 1970, the growth in women’s participation in the economy has expanded the economy by $2 trillion,” Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said to reporters, per U.S. News & World Report. “So taking a look at how women are doing in the recovery is important to understanding how the recovery is doing overall.”

Looking at the numbers, those 4.1 million private sector jobs are less than half of the jobs recouped in the past four and a half years, but women had a bit less ground to make up than men after the economic crisis. Overall, women lost fewer jobs than men between 2008 and 2013, except in state and local government jobs, where they lost 65 percent of the jobs. “Women’s employment tends to be less cyclical than men’s, largely because women are less likely to work in industries where employment greatly fluctuates with the business cycle,” Stevenson wrote in a White House blog post.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, women only lost 2.7 million jobs during the recession, meaning they’re actually 1.4 million jobs richer than what they had before the recession, but — like many jobs statistics — this progress doesn’t necessarily reflect population growth. In terms of gender equality, though, it is a win, as, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of female private sector workers rose from 46.9 percent prior to the recession to 47.9 percent last month. 

Though it’s changed over the years, women have experienced the most job gains in the areas of education and health services, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality. Last month, however, women gained more manufacturing jobs than any time since July 2000.

Stevenson said that a good measure of future economic progress is what young people are doing. For young women, she said they’re narrowing the statistical gap with men in the workforce. “The vast majority are either in school or participating in the labor force, and that’s very similar to where men are,” she said. “There are very few differences between what young women and young men are doing.” For the past 20 years, women have made up the majority of postsecondary students, which, according to Stevenson, means “they will account for the majority of our skilled labor force in the future.”

But there is still large inequality within the gender. African-American women are still facing more of a struggle than all men and women of other ethnicities and are in the worst spot economically. They make up the only group with an unemployment rate that has not improved in the last year, according to the National Women’s Law Center, which based its analysis on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers.

“The slowdown in job growth isn’t the only red flag in today’s employment data,” said Joan Entmacher, vice president of Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center. “While unemployment rates for all other groups of workers are lower than a year ago, the unemployment rate for African American women has not improved over the past year, and stands at 10.6 percent. Lawmakers must act to promote a stronger — and more widely shared — recovery.”

African-American women are also statistically more likely to be single mothers, putting them in a rough place financially and making it more difficult to find work. African-American women, Hispanic women, and single mothers also saw higher unemployment rates in August.

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