Attacks on public employees, in Wisconsin and other budget-crunched states, may not sound like they’re specifically targeting female workers—but they’ll end up doing just that. Governor Scott Walker wants to strip collective bargaining from unions that disproportionately represent women—the only public employees he’s exempting are police officers, firefighters and state troopers, the majority of whom are men. In fact, jobs disproportionately held by women are those most at risk in any state considering budget cuts.
This isn’t what we’re used to hearing: during the “mancession,” female workers, concentrated in non-construction jobs, were less affected by the downturn than their male counterparts. But you might say we’re now entering a “hecovery.”
While construction and manufacturing were the first sectors to tank when the housing bubble burst, dragging male employment down with them, they’re now making some (albeit minimal) gains. Meanwhile, lost tax revenue and increased spending to cover unemployment benefits, coupled with a coming shut-off in federal aid, has led to state budget crises across the country. Traditionally female-heavy industries—once thought to be recession-proof—are now being hit hard by the “tough choices” made by governors facing depleted state coffers.
In other words, it’s time to start talking about the womancession.
Joanne Gallagher, a teacher in Stratford, Connecticut, has been unemployed since May. For seven years, she taught math for the shop class in a technical high school, where she received glowing reviews and was recommended for tenure. Her school had survived a round of cuts the year before; students didn’t have graphing or scrap paper, and administrators could only afford to buy forty graphing calculators per building. And then Gallagher was informed in March that the school would be reviewing and overwriting tenure recommendations; at the beginning of May she was told that her contract wouldn’t be renewed. She later found out that a single teacher has filled a job previously performed by both Gallagher and a co-teacher, while sports and art have been reduced, music cut altogether and after-school tutoring eliminated.
Joanne’s story is more and more common as the anemic economic recovery decimates state budgets. Male workers did take a huge hit when the economy first stumbled—in August 2009, the male unemployment rate stood at 11 percent while women’s was at 8.3 percent, the largest gap in the postwar era. But since late 2009, male unemployment has begun to either flatten out or make very modest gains. As of November, it was down .04 percent over the previous twelve months. Meanwhile, women’s unemployment rate is increasing—over that same period it rose .04 percent. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women lost 366,000 jobs between July 2009 and January 2011, while men gained 438,000, a difference of 804,000. These trends are set to worsen.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, forty-five states and the District of Columbia are projecting shortfalls totaling $125 billion in fiscal year 2012, and many local governments have turned to severe job cuts for public workers to fill the hole. Since August of 2008, the public sector cut 426,000 jobs, with 154,000 of those in education. Governors across the country—Republicans and Democrats alike—are threatening that there will be many more. And even though women represent just over half of the public workforce, the NWLC found that they lost the majority of the jobs—a whopping 83.8 percent—during the so-called recovery. Meanwhile, as Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the NWLC, points out, “The effects of cuts are likely to be bigger than just public employees, and the ripples mostly fall on women.” Childcare workers, social service providers, even nonprofit employees—all areas where women are concentrated—will see government subsidies dry up.