With the U.S. economy sputtering toward recession, working women and their families will feel more pain than in past downturns.
According to a report by the congressional Joint Economic Committee, women are now working in jobs and industries that are more likely to lay off workers than they were in most previous recessions:
In recessions prior to 2001, women could buffer family incomes against male unemployment because they did not experience sharp job losses. However, this changed in the 2001 recession as women lost jobs on par with men in the industries that lost the most jobs.
The report, Equality in Job Loss, points to a change in the types of jobs women now hold versus some predominantly female occupations in which women workers traditionally were employed. It says women now hold a much wider range of jobs, especially in industries susceptible to layoffs.
Because of this, women may be more susceptible to the impact of the business cycle than they were when they were more highly concentrated in a smaller number of non-cyclical occupations like teaching and nursing.
Says Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is vice chair of the committee:
Women have been striving for equality with men in jobs and wages. Unfortunately, what we’ve achieved is equality in losing jobs during recessions.
Today, with women accounting for a much larger share of family income—or the sole share for single mothers—losing a job will have a much greater impact on family budgets.
Families are more economically vulnerable as wives are no longer insulating families from economic hardship in times of higher unemployment and falling or stagnant real wages. Single-mother families are now especially vulnerable.
If the 2001 pattern holds true, women who lose their jobs in this downturn will have a harder time finding new work. According to the report, in the “jobless recovery” following the previous recession, women’s employment rates never returned to the pre-recession levels.
The report also says women’s job loss will be felt beyond the family, by the economy as a whole. It says the federal and state governments will have to be more aggressive than in the past.
Spurring consumer spending to boost economic growth and job creation may take far more government action, especially with respect to fiscal spending, than in previous recessions. Fiscal aid to the states is important to help states maintain programs—and keep workers—in the face of ensuing budget cuts. Ensuring that all workers—women and men—can access unemployment compensation when they lose their jobs is critical.