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."