RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The government updates its monthly unemployment numbers this morning. In this recession, seven and a half million jobs have already been lost, and the lion's share of them - 75 percent - were held by men. This means more and more women have become the primary source of income for their families. But here's the problem: women still don't make as much money as men. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN: There are a lot of women who out earn their husbands, or have jobs once held only by men. But when you look at the U.S. economy as a whole, that's not what stands out.
Ms. HEATHER BOUSHEY (Center for American Progress): Our labor market still remains highly segregated.
LUDDEN: Labor economist Heather Boushey is with the Center for American Progress. She says men have been hit so hard this downturn because they're concentrated in the industries most affected - construction, auto manufacturing, Wall Street. Those all pay pretty well, too.
Ms. BOUSHEY: So because women are concentrated in caring jobs, like child-care workers or nursing or home health aides, many of those are paid far less than comparably skilled male jobs.
LUDDEN: Here's how far. A woman today makes 77 cents to a man's dollar. That's a pay gap that's held steady for the past decade. And as men have lost jobs, this gap has hit families hard.
Ms. MICHELLE QUINN: He was the primary breadwinner, so we have - I mean, our income went down by over 50 percent.
LUDDEN: Michelle Quinn's husband lost his advertising job in Austin, Texas, in January. She works for the state government, but she never imagined the couple would rely only on her job.
Ms. QUINN: I've always, kind of, bounced around from jobs and never really had the expectation of being, like, the working career women. Because we're older, I had the anticipation of starting a family pretty quickly and, you know, resigning from my position. However, due to the economy and our situation, that's no longer a reality.
LUDDEN: Quinn does have employer-sponsored health insurance and was able to put her husband on her policy. In that, she's lucky. Joan Entmacher, of the National Women's Law Center, says women are also less likely to have health coverage through work. So when a man loses his job the whole family is often left uninsured. And Entmacher says there are other disparities for working women.
Ms. JOAN ENTMACHER (Vice president, National Women's Law Center): They are still more likely to work part time and take time out of the labor force for unpaid care giving, which lowers their overall earnings and their opportunity to get other benefits such as retirement benefits.
LUDDEN: Entmacher says women have been losing their jobs, too. One group hit even worse than men has been single mothers. Last month, unemployment among single moms hit 11.6 percent. Overall, women's share of layoffs has been increasing and could go up sharply if state and local governments shed more jobs, like teachers.
But the disproportionate losses for men in this downturn have given women's role in the economy a sizable boost. It's pushed their share of jobs toward a symbolic all-time high of 50 percent. That rise is part of a long term trend. One reason, Heather Boushey says, it's pure economics.
Ms. BOUSHEY: When you look from the period from the mid-1970s to today, if you are a married couple and you don't have a wife working � your standard of living is exactly the same today as it was back in the mid-1970s in inflation-adjusted terms. No increase.
LUDDEN: Before the recession, working women were essential to helping families get ahead. Now, many are struggling just to help their families get by.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.
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