Women's Job Losses Under Obama Have Been Driven by GOP Obstruction

A blog about business and economics.
April 11 2012 4:28 PM

Women's Job Losses Under Obama Have Been Driven by GOP Obstruction

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A woman waits for Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at a campaign event on April 11, 2012 in Hartford, Conn.

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Apparently the ridiculous political attack line we're supposed to talk about today is Mitt Romney's claim that 92.3 percent of jobs lost since Barack Obama took office belonged to women. This turns out to be true if you decide to assume that Obama is fully responsible for labor market events in January, even though two-thirds of January occurred before his inauguration.

The story within the story is that recessions hit male-dominated highly cyclical sectors like construction and manufacturing first. Women tend to disproportionately work in sectors like health care and education that show slow and steady job growth. But those male-dominated cyclical sectors also bounce back relatively quickly. So since the recession started more than a year before Obama's inauguration, male job losses were close to bottoming out by the time Obama took office and he's presided over a lot of rebound growth in male employment. Women, by contrast, have been devastated by cascading waves of teacher layoffs:

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Not only have these layoffs primarily been implemented at the behest of Republican Party governors and state legislators, but the Obama administration twice—once in the Spring of 2010 and a second time in the fall of 2012—pushed hard for legislation to prevent layoffs of teachers. These efforts were roundly denounced by conservatives as wasteful and costly "bailouts" and so they didn't happen.

The moral of the story here is that the political coalitions in the United States are actually bound together by some fairly deep logic. From a purely demographic perspective, the Democrats are more the party of women and from an economic policy perspective Democrats are more the party of high levels of social service employment. Not coincidentally, women are much more likely to employed in the sectors that Democrats favor. If we'd implemented more conservative policies even more government workers (mostly women) would have lost jobs, but we'd almost certainly have seen an even bigger boom in male dominated undertakings like mining and pipeline construction. More generally, the high income earners whose taxes Democrats want to hike are disproportionately men and the social welfare programs whose benefits Republicans want to slash are disproportionately women. Economic policy is deeply gendered in the United States, and the choice between Democrats and Republicans is in part a choice about the allocation of material resources between women and men.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.