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The January jobs numbers brought joy and cork popping, but official unemployment’s fall to 8.3 per cent from 9.1 per cent a year earlier seems a bit over-celebrated, especially if you happen to be young, old, a person of color or a woman.
First, on those official numbers, the ones that sent spirits soaring across the instant-econo-commentary complex. As Paul Craig Roberts has reported here, January’s numbers got a hefty bit of help from adjustments due to the 2010 census which added 1.2 million Americans to the labor force in the “not looking” category. Between December 2011 and January 2012, the number of Americans out of work for too long to be receiving benefits and/or not formally looking for work increased by its largest jump ever, 1.2 million. You can read the full Department of Labor report right here. As Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment figures measure the proportion of the labor force that’s officially out of work, January’s census adjustment put a heavy finger on the good-news end of that measure.
More broadly, while people can argue about the details of the month, there’s no getting around the fact that two years of job gains have done next to nothing to boost the percentage of the population formally participating in the labor force. At 58.5 per cent, the civilian employment-population ratio is the lowest it’s been in three decades. Add in the military, and it squeaks to just 63.7 percent – where it’s been for stuck flat for two years, “recovery” or no recovery. Around forty per cent of the working age population are simply off the jobs-map.
Women, in particular, seem to be on a long steady march out of the workplace and back into the home or off the books, or off to somewhere invisible.
In January what constituted good news for women was that male and female unemployment were the same for the first time since the start of the recession. When the recession officially began in December 2007, the official unemployment rate for both women and men stood at 4.4 percent. Over two and a half years later, their unemployment rates finally met – at 7.7 percent. But since the start of the recovery in June 2009, men’s unemployment has dropped 2.2 percentage points, while women’s unemployment has essentially flat-lined – rising slightly from 7.6 percent in June 2009. Women are hardly bouncing back, and women of color are especially lagging. In January, black women (12.6 per cent), black men (12.7 per cent), Hispanic women (11.3 per cent), Hispanic men (10.7 per cent), and single mothers (12.0 per cent) all had unemployment rates substantially higher than the national average. And remember, that’s only those who fit in the DOL’s carefully condensed category of “unemployed” — not too long and not too discouraged.
The recession that was originally dubbed a “mancession” (because men lost 70 per cent of the 7.5 million jobs that were eliminated between December 2007 and June 2009, ) has been followed by a two and half years in which men have won 92 percent of the 1.9 million jobs created. That’s a man-covery.
(Yes, it’s true, as the New York Times has ballyhooed, women outnumber men on college campuses, and more women than men are being awarded doctoral degrees but you tell me which is the more front-page deserving story.)
One reason is that women represent 57 per cent of workers in the public sector (compared with 48 per cent in the private sector where the gains are.) They hold a disproportionate share of state and local government jobs– exactly those levels of government that have been shedding workers by the shipload.
Let these statistics from the National Women’s Law Center sink in:
While January brought job gains, women have only gained eight percent of the jobs added since the start of the recovery. Since the recovery began in June 2009, women have now gained 150,000 jobs – a positive change, but still not enough. Why? Because a gain of 150,000 jobs is equal to just eight per cent of the more than 1.9 million net jobs the economy has added in the recovery. Women’s shockingly small share of the job growth is because they’ve suffered a disproportionate share of the job losses in the public sector – nearly 70 per cent – and have enjoyed less than a quarter of the private sector gains.
Women between the ages of 25 and 54 are no longer participating in the visible, paid labor force at higher rates than their predecessors. For statisticians, that’s a very big deal. It means that projections of “recovery” that are based on returning to anything resembling the labor force participation growth rate we saw from 1970 to 1990 are flat out fantasy.
Laura Flanders is the founder and host of GRITtv. You can reach her at laura@GRITtv.org