During the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, men lost far more jobs than women. But since the recovery began, the tables have turned and women have fared worse, largely because of public sector cutbacks. As governors continue to trim spending to balance budgets, more layoffs are on the way, and women-dominated fields such as teaching, nursing, and home health care are vulnerable.
In the rancorous debate over government jobs, pensions, and collective bargaining, the disproportionate effect on women has gone almost unnoticed. Women lost 72 percent of 378,000 government posts cut between July 2009 and March 2010, according to the Labor Dept. When private sector gains are included, women had a net loss of 212,000 jobs between July 2009 and last month.
Men added 757,000 jobs, mostly in the private sector, in that same period, though they continue to lag behind women in overall job gains. The male workforce is 6.8 percent below its prerecession employment level, while women remain 3.7 percent behind.
Now as the private sector ramps up, the public sector—and local government especially—continues to shed jobs. This year will be "the toughest year yet for local governments," Moody's Investors Service said in a Mar. 16 report. Local government has the highest concentration of female workers of the three government levels, at 62 percent. Females hold 57 percent of all government jobs, Labor Dept. data show.
Some of the biggest hits are in public education. Women made up about 76 percent of teachers in the 2007-08 school year, the latest available figures from the Education Dept. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has cut school aid by $1.3 billion since taking office in January 2010. Eighty percent of the state's districts reported teacher reductions this school year, says Frank Belluscio, a spokesman at the New Jersey School Boards Assn. Ohio Governor John Kasich's spending plan would cut 7,000 teachers over two years, says Innovation Ohio, which lobbies for the poor and middle class. Government is "taking a wrecking ball to what have traditionally been female-dominated professions," says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Dawn Willis, 39, is among those who have lost jobs because of budget cuts. She was a social studies teacher in Jackson, N.J. "I find it hard to believe we're in a recovery," she says. After eight years of classroom experience, she may switch careers. "I've always been very optimistic, but now I'm starting to swing the other way."
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington research group that advocates limits on labor power, says the laws curbing union bargaining will allow fewer dismissals and limit tax increases, saving states money. "The current system is unsustainable," says Furchtgott-Roth, who was chief economist at the Labor Dept. under President George W. Bush. "Women are the winners in all this."
That's hard to square with the data: Last month, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder stripped bargaining rights from home-based child-care workers, 94 percent of whom are female. The widely publicized law championed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, which is being challenged in court, would revoke bargaining rights for university hospital workers, home health aides, and day-care providers. Firefighters and police, overwhelmingly male, are exempt. Limiting collective bargaining could also jeopardize flexible work hours and maternity leave, says Joan Entmacher, a vice-president of the National Women's Law Center, as well as widen the gender wage gap. In 2010, female union members earned 89 cents for every dollar male counterparts earned, according to the Labor Dept. Non-union women made 81 cents on the dollar.
The bottom line: Public sector job losses have fallen disproportionately on women, as states cut female-dominated jobs in education and health care.