The jobs numbers that came out on Friday looked so much better than what we’re used to—or at least didn’t suck quite as hard as usual—that there was some victory dancing in the blogosphere. And there are certainly some positive signs. But a premature victory for women once again reared its head. The fears of a mancession have returned in a new shape, as David Leonhardt wondered if we’re about to move out of the “hecovery” period—in which men made job gains while women lost them—to a “shecovery.” He points out that over the past two months, the number of employed men only rose by 83,000, while women were up 192,000 jobs.
There may be a problem with this data. A large part of the jump that Leonhardt saw in women’s employment is because the BLS, as it sometimes does, updated its population estimates, “finding” more women workers than had been previously accounted for. Yet it didn’t add those women evenly across the year. As Mike Konczal notes, “December showed women gaining 584,000 jobs as a result of statistical population adjustments that, in reality, should have been smoothed across a longer time frame.” The jump in women’s jobs is mostly artificial.
Still, the picture is starting to look better for women. Just as recently as August women were losing jobs, while men were getting back to work. Now women are starting to join in the economy’s very slow job creation: according to the National Women’s Law Center, they gained about one-third of the roughly 200,000 jobs added in January and February.
But how does that compare to where they were at the beginning of the recovery? It doesn’t take long to go back to when we were still in the grips of mancession mania: women’s unemployment rate was “only” 7.6, while men’s was close to 10. Now those levels are completely equal: for the past two months, both men and women have experienced a 7.7 percent unemployment rate. Thus the mancession officially ended. Yet this is only good news for men: women have seen a slight rise overall in their unemployment rate since the recovery began in 2009, while men have seen a decline of 2.2 percentage points. It makes sense that men would see a faster decline in unemployment, given that they saw a sharp rise during the recession, but it’s not a good sign for women to be sliding backward.
Why are women losing jobs? A huge part of the picture is that women are more often employed in the public sector, particularly as public school teachers. And the public sector has taken a huge hit. According to the BLS, we lost 584,000 public sector jobs since June 2009, 236,500 of which were in local education. And even though women make up the majority of public sector workers, they took more than their share of the job losses: nearly 70 percent, according to NWLC. That trend shows no sign of improving. In fact, it may accelerate. Just this weekend, the New York Times reported that many government budgets are being stretched beyond the breaking point. The aftermath of the recession is catching up with cities and counties: tax revenues are lower with fewer people employed, plus falling property values are hitting tax collections, while the stock market destroyed many public pension fund investments, meaning pension payments eat up more tax revenues. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it, many of these governments may have to decide to have “fewer cops, fewer firefighters, slower ambulance response, less teachers in front of the classroom.”
State budgets are faring no better. Twenty-nine states are projecting shortfalls for 2013 that will total $47 billion, and with all of the stimulus package’s aid dried up, there are few options available to address those gaps. Public payrolls are sure to keep falling off, and that will mean even more teacher layoffs.
Men and women alike have felt the economic pain of the recession and recovery, even during the mancession and the hecovery. But if the economy’s tide is rising, it’s not lifting women’s boats.