The good news: manufacturing employment rose for the first time in more than a decade last year. The bad news: that was only true for men. In a report released today, the National Women’s Law Center found that men gained 230,000 jobs in manufacturing between 2010 and 2011, while women lost 25,000 jobs.
Interestingly, manufacturing has not been a very mancession-y sector. Yes, employment there tanked and was a big part of why men had such a high rate during the recession. But the job losses within the sector were actually proportional according to gender. Women held about 30 percent of the jobs before the recession and lost 30 percent of the jobs during it; men held about 70 percent of jobs and lost the same amount. But as with the economy as a whole, the recovery has not been as kind to women. From 2010 to 2011, not a single sector in manufacturing showed job gains for women; rather, there were a few in which women lost ground.
Why would this trend appear now? The answers aren’t so clear. I spoke with Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at NWLC, who told me that because this phenomenon is “so widespread and diverse across the manufacturing sector, we really don’t know why.” She also pointed out that we don’t know precisely where the new jobs are coming from—it could be that some plants are rehiring jobs sloughed off during the downturn, or it could be in brand new plants—which complicates the picture. History may shed some light: in the past, she said, some of the reasons women were underrepresented in the sector included employer discrimination, harassment from coworkers (or even the perception of potential harassment) and a lack of training in particular fields. But if the country is going to invest in manufacturing jobs, she says, “we need to be self-conscious about making sure the jobs are available to everyone.”
That’s why the report ends by recommending that the government increase outreach and support for women getting into these jobs, provide more funding for educational and training programs in the right fields, and hold programs and employers accountable to make sure these jobs reach a full cross-section of Americans.