Got To Work
How the Obama jobs program will really affect women workers.
Looks like the Obama administration is finally remembering who most of its voters were: women. During the early rollout of the Obama jobs program, all the talk was of roads, bridges, and alternative fuel. And as many people quickly noticed, that plan might as well have had the old boys' club sign posted to it: NO GIRLS ALLOWED. Who builds roads and bridges and invents alternative fuels? Construction workers and engineers. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction trades are approximately 3 percent female and 97 percent male, while engineers are 12 percent female and 88 percent male.
Since the start of the recession, the unemployment rate for women is up by 1.6 percentage points. That is not as dramatic an increase as men's unemployment (up 2.8 percentage points), but it's clear that women's unemployment went up by a factor far greater than 10 percent of the men's rate, while they would have captured only 10 percent of the jobs, as they were originally described. So in the recession-suffering Olympics, it would have seemed that women were entitled to a little more than 10 percent of the job ointment.
Without ever letting on, of course, the no-drama Obama mantra suddenly began to shift on the stimulus package to include talk of new jobs also going to places where women can sometimes be found, such as "education" and "health care." Then last Saturday, the president- and vice-president-elect's chief economic advisers, Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein, released a report on the program, titled "The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan," which includes an analysis of the effect of the jobs program on women. The report said almost nothing about any other group.
According to Romer and Bernstein, the jobs program as now conceived will be a veritable estrogen-fest:
The total number of created jobs likely to go to women is roughly 42% of the jobs created by the package. Given that so far in the recession women have accounted for roughly 20% of the decline in payroll employment, this calculation could reflect that the stimulus package skews job creation somewhat toward women, possibly as a result of the investments in healthcare, education, and state fiscal relief.
Doesn't this sound wrong? Could it possibly be that women have lost only 20 percent of the jobs that have vanished in the last, devastating year? Elsewhere in the report, Romer and Bernstein write that while the overall unemployment rate during the current recession has risen 2.3 percentage points, the unemployment rate for women has increased only 1.6 percentage points. Math may be hard, but that figure still means the unemployment rate for women rose 70 percent as fast as the overall rate. How can that be if they bore only 20 percent of the job losses? Women comprise almost half of the American work force. The two numbers are impossible to reconcile.
What's the answer? According to Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, the key is that more new women entered the market, looking for work just as, interestingly, men left the job market. He didn't say it, but I'm guessing that women are pouring into the workplace at least in part because their spouses' incomes cannot support the family anymore.
Put another way, they need the money. So even though women who are already working didn't lose jobs as fast as already-working men did, that's hardly the problem. The real problem is unemployment: people looking for work who can't find jobs. Here's an easy way to think about it: If 1,000 Martians came into the job market looking for work, and the market created 100 Martian jobs, that wouldn't mean the Martians were in good shape because more of them were employed. It would mean the Martians had a 90 percent unemployment rate.