Over the years, there have been many successes for women in the workplace, particularly for younger women. Data shows that younger women are starting their careers better educated than males, are earning more money than their mothers and grandmothers did, and have entered the workforce with a higher average hourly wage than their male counterparts over the last 30 years.
More recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over half of the 192,000 jobs that were added in March this year were gained by women. However, despite these successes, a recent analysis conducted by the National Women’s Law Center finds that the unemployment rate also rose for women in that same month. Senior Policy Analyst for the NWLC, Katherine Gallagher Robbins and Public Policy Fellow, Lauren Frohlich share why this is a concerning issue.
Unemployment Has Declined, But Is Still An Issue
“Looking backwards to December 2007, women and men’s unemployment now is about one and a half times higher than it was at the beginning of the recession,” said Robbins, “and so that’s really troubling.”
Though it’s been about four and a half years since the recession’s end, job growth has not significantly accelerated since 2011, stated a study by the Economic Policy Institute. Between the December 2012 to November 2013 period, the labor market added 191,000 jobs per month, the report notes. From September 2013 to November 2013 the number only increased to 193,000 jobs per month. The author of the study added that the jobs per month would need to double (about 400,000 jobs per month) in order to return to pre-recession labor market conditions in two years. The nation’s current pace would get us there in five years.
Increase In Low Wage Jobs
In spite of the 192,000 jobs that were added in March, about 45 percent of those jobs were in the low-wage sector.
“When men and women – particularly women – are seeing job growth, they’re seeing it disproportionately in low wage jobs. That has all kinds of implications for families, economic security, [and] for women’s economic security,” said Robbins. “…Almost half of the jobs added are in low wage sectors [and] these jobs are being predominantly filled by women.”
The NWLC’s analysis reports that the biggest gains for women were in professional and business services, which include temporary help services (about 29,000 jobs). Retail came in second with 25,500 jobs, followed by private education and health services (24,000 jobs) and 15,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector.
Long-Term Unemployment Issues
Nearly 4 million people have been searching for employment, stated the NWLC. “The [unemployment] rates are still about four in ten for both men and women,” said Frohlich, “and those long-term unemployment rates are the workers who have been unemployed for more than twenty-six weeks.”
In December 2013 long-term unemployment benefits expired and 2.3 million people were left without unemployment benefits. It wasn’t until recently that the U.S. Senate approved a short term extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program until May 31st of 2014, giving Americans less than two months of unemployed benefits.
Robbins added that restoring unemployment benefits would help workers not only get back on their feet, but it would also help the economy. “These families get checks in the mail and that would obviously help them enormously, but you have to think where that money goes in the community,” said Robbins. “…They can buy food, they can buy gas to be able to look for work or go to school, but then they also might be able to get their children the pair of sneakers that they need because they’re growing out of the sneakers they already have, and that puts money into the economy which creates demand for businesses as well.”
An Uneven Recovery
Though there’s been some steady economic growth since the end of the recession, it hasn’t been the same for everyone. According to the EPI, almost 13 percent of all workers experienced some type of unemployment in 2013. That number grows to 15.5 percent for Hispanics, and 19.7 for black workers.
“Things are bad overall and things are really bad for particular groups of men and women,” Robbins stated. Robbins added that black women’s unemployment rates have also suffered, particularly for women 20 years and older. From the February to March 2014 period alone, unemployment rates for black women increased sharply from nearly 10 percent to 11 percent.
“One of the best things that citizens can do is talk to representatives and senators and tell them that things like raising the minimum wage and reinstating Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits are important to them,” said Robbins, “and their representatives and senators should pass this legislation…Just telling the people in Congress what is important to them and what they think could improve their economic situation is a great first step.”