Financial Recovery Looks More Like 'Man-covery'

A job seeker looks at a bulletin at the Texas Workforce Commission's Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas job resource center in Richardson, Texas, Tuesday, July 5, 2011. i i

A job seeker looks at a bulletin at the Texas Workforce Commission's Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas job resource center in Richardson, Texas, Tuesday, July 5, 2011. LM Otero/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

itoggle caption LM Otero/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A job seeker looks at a bulletin at the Texas Workforce Commission's Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas job resource center in Richardson, Texas, Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

A job seeker looks at a bulletin at the Texas Workforce Commission's Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas job resource center in Richardson, Texas, Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

LM Otero/ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the last two years of the financial recovery, women and teens have struggled as men steadily gained jobs. To learn why, host Michel Martin speaks with Employment Policies Institute Research Fellow Michael Saltsman and the National Women's Law Center's Joan Entmacher.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, an estimated 40,000 people have lost their lives to drug-related violence in Mexico in the past few years. And the violence has gotten so bad and so constant, it's hard to remember that it was not always this way. In a few minutes, we will talk about why the violence is escalating and what that means for the U.S. That conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, we go back to an issue that affects so many people in this country - unemployment.

Last Friday, the latest unemployment figures were released. And while that 9.2 percent figure wasn't dramatically worse than the 9.1 percent figure from the previous month, many analysts said it was a sign of some very serious underlying weakness in the economy. But it was also a sign of something else, according to the people we're about to speak with. It is a sign that the pain is shifting.

You might remember that when this recession began, it hit men the hardest. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost twice as many men as women lost their jobs in the period between December 2007 and June 2009. But more recently it seems that women are being more dramatically affected. Between June 2009 and June 2011, women lost close to 300,000 jobs while men gained more than 800,000.

And teens are also struggling to get on the payroll. For the third year in a row, teens' summer unemployment rates reached more than 20 percent. The highest youth unemployment rate is right here in Washington, D.C., where that number has hit 49 percent. We're going to dig into those youth unemployment numbers in a moment.

But first, we're going to talk about the numbers for women. Joan Entmacher is vice president for Family Economic Security with the National Women's Law Center. She's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Welcome, thanks for joining us.

JOAN ENTMACHER: Thank you, Michel, for inviting me.

MARTIN: In fact, we understand from your report that men are landing jobs far more often than women in industries that are traditionally dominated by women, including those in the public sector and the leisure and hospitality sector. Could you just sort of give us the overall picture of what it is that women are experiencing in contrast to men?

ENTMACHER: Well, first of all, as you pointed out, women have actually lost nearly 300,000 jobs during this recovery, while men have gained over 800,000. Women's unemployment rate has gone up during the period of the recovery while men's unemployment rate, while still very high - and I don't mean to suggest that men are doing well, of course. But their unemployment rate is at least coming down. And we've never seen a recovery like this, where two years into the recovery women are doing so much worse than men and are actually losing ground.

MARTIN: What's the women's unemployment rate now?

ENTMACHER: Women's unemployment rate is now 8 percent. Women's - men's unemployment rate, which had been going down for most of the recovery has picked back up to 9.1 percent, but it's still lower than the 9.9 percent that it was at the end of the recession.

MARTIN: So, men are still more likely to be unemployed.

ENTMACHER: That's right. Although one thing I would emphasize is that for some groups of women, their unemployment rate is higher than that of men and that includes African-American women, Latino women, and single mothers who are, of course, especially economically vulnerable. They've had higher rates of unemployment than men overall throughout the recession and recovery.

MARTIN: Why would it be that men are gaining jobs as women are losing them? Is it that the sectors that traditionally employ men like construction are picking up, while areas that weren't affected previously are now being affected like the public sector, like we now hear that there teacher layoffs in some places, which is something that was, you know, unheard of.

ENTMACHER: We don't entirely know. Some reasons are clear. And one of the main reasons that women are doing so badly during the recovery period is precisely what you mentioned, which is the massive lay offs in the public sector.

During the first part of the recession, the recovery act that was passed that provided help to state and local governments helped avoid lay offs in the early part of the recession of teachers, of nurses, of librarians, of social workers.

So, it's really since the recovery started that we've seen big public sector layoffs and women are not only bearing more of those layoffs because they are a majority of public sector workers. They're experiencing a disproportionate share of the layoffs in the public sector. Seventy percent of the lay offs in the public sector have been experienced by women. They're less than 60 percent of public employees overall.

So, those hundreds of thousands of layoffs and they are affecting men too but to a lesser extent. So, that's the main reason why women are doing so badly. The other part, and this is harder to explain, is that women are getting such a small percentage of the private sector jobs that are coming back.

Men have gotten 15 times as many private sector jobs as women have. And while it's absolutely true, men lost more than twice as many jobs as women did during the recession and so you would expect men to get back a larger share of jobs as they come back.

Fifteen times and, you know, a little over twice as many jobs lost is not proportional. And it's not because the men's sectors are recovering. In fact, construction is not yet making a recovery. And, you know, what's happening in manufacturing, men have gained nearly 100,000 manufacturing jobs but women have lost over 100,000.

This phenomenon of women doing less well than men in the recovery goes across industry sectors, whether they are male-dominated, female-dominated, or 50/50.

MARTIN: Just briefly, Joan, is it - I wonder if there's sort of an unconscious issue involved like, for example, in the post-war period when men were coming back from service overseas and the view among employers was that men need the jobs more. For whatever reason that they think that, even if women do need the jobs women are heads of households. I wonder if you think that's maybe an unconscious issue at work, where employers feel, you know what, a man needs a job more?

ENTMACHER: We think that's part of it and we have heard anecdotes and reports that would support that. It's very hard to know how much of a factor that is. But a lot of other reasons, you know, just don't seem to hold up. For example, as they say, it's not that male-dominated sectors are making more of a recovery.

In an area like manufacturing, we know that some of the jobs that are being lost are the lower-skilled manufacturing jobs that, you know, more of the jobs that may require some knowledge of computers or a higher level of education. But women are now quite competitive on those grounds.

In fact, women's, you know, educational attainment, you know, is equal to or surpassing that of men, and yet it's not helping them recover jobs. So, it's hard to explain.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking about why men are outpacing women in job gains during the recovery. But now we'd like to talk about why young people are having so much trouble finding work now. With us to talk about that is Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute. He's also here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Michael, you worked on a recent study about summer unemployment rates for teens. How do the numbers now compare with employment figures before the recession?

MICHAEL SALTSMAN: Well, they're far worse. I mean, we see nationally that teen unemployment rate is 24.5 percent, which unfortunately has sort of failed to shock us because we're in the third year of that. But essentially, you know, what that means is, you know, one out of every four teens that wants a job can't find one.

What we saw on the state level though is that, you know, some states have unemployment rates teen unemployment rates that are averaging above 30 percent and when you add in discouraged teens - teens that were looking for a job but have grown discouraged at their prospects and stopped looking. A lot of those rates are even higher, getting up into 36, 37 percent.

MARTIN: And as we mentioned in the introduction from your report in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital the teen unemployment rate is almost 50 percent. Now, some people might wonder why we care. You know, some people might say well, teens what's so what, you know, they can go to the pool. They should go to the library. They could babysit their siblings. They can, you know, help parents out at home. What's so terrible?

SALTSMAN: Sure, I mean, you know, the idea that maybe they're just missing out on some extra spending cash, but I think that if you look at what the research has to say about it, teens that miss out on sort of opportunities now are at a disadvantage later in life. They're at a greater risk of sort of earning lower wages or being more likely to be unemployed again. And I think it's because of the skills they pick up at a first job. Some economists call it the invisible curriculum. Others call it soft skills. That's basically some of the responsibilities that you learn from reporting to a manager, working with customers.

There are the skills that sort of help you get that next job that's to represent the first rung on the career ladder. So when teens miss out of that, they are less likely to sort of experience labor market success later in life.

MARTIN: And why is it - we've talked about the why. Someone was telling us that when it comes to women, we're not really sure why. Why is it that teens are having such a hard time? Is it that the overall economic sense is that we're all people can afford to hire, the kinds of part time workers or they don't want to hire the kinds of part time workers that teens traditionally represent?

Yeah, to boil it down, I think it's more competition for fewer jobs. I mean, we're going on here through the third summer with these really high teen unemployment rates. So you can point to the recession, but I think you look at other factors, too. You might look at more competition from other workers who may not have been competing for those jobs in the past. Some of the jobs that teens used to fill also aren't necessarily there anymore.

We talk about bagging your own groceries now, instead of, you know, having a teen bag them for us. And that's a response to technology, it's also a response - it's kind of an unintended consequence of maybe higher labor costs because of a rising minimum wage. So these are the sort of factors that, you know, kind of go into, I think, making a really difficult summer for teens the third year in a row.

And before I let each of you go, I'm going to ask you a question that one of my former bosses used to ask us when we'd come back from a kind of a hard, you know, assignment. We were all, you know, hot, sweaty and annoyed. And he would come back - he would say, is anything okay? And so I'd like to ask each of you that. Is anything okay? Are there any bright spots in what we're finding out about the economy, in regards to the particular groups that you're most concerned with?

Joan, I'll start with you and Michael, I'll give you the last word.

ENTMACHER: Well, I hate to end with a downer, but it is actually very scary. I mean, as tough as things have been, the cuts that policymakers are talking about now, drastic cuts in spending, would make things far worse for women. They would mean more lost jobs, more lost services and could set back the economy in a really serious way if policymakers don't wake up and realize that the real crisis we have now is a jobs crisis.

MARTIN: Michael?

SALTSMAN: Well, one positive, I think. The good news for teens is that certain research has found their resilient. They usually earn a raise in their first one to 12 months on the job, if they can get a job. I think, for this summer, what we hope is going to happen is that teens are more willing to take even unpaid internships, opportunities where they can still sort of get that first job experience that will make them more competitive in the labor market later on.

MARTIN: Michael Saltsman is a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute. Joan Entmacher is the vice president for Family Economic Security from the National Women's Law Center. They were both kind enough to join us in our Washington D.C. studios. Thank you both for speaking with us.

ENTMACHER: Thank you, Michel.

SALTSMAN: (Unintelligible).

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