September 9 2013

Behind the August Jobs Report: The Male-Female Jobs Gap

Patrice J. Lee

Unemployment ticked down to 7.3 percent in August but there’s nothing to celebrate if you’re one of the many millions who have dropped out of the job market –largely the cause of the unemployment decline.

The economy added fewer than 170,000 jobs. When you dig deeper into the numbers we see just how bad things are.

First, the job numbers were revised down for both June and July by almost 75,000. It’s projected to take eight years for the economy to get back to pre-recession hiring – that’s a two-term presidency. In case you’re not aware, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases estimates of job creation across the nation at the beginning of each month and then releases revisions once the final numbers are confirmed. So things weren’t as rosy as we thought over the summer.

Next and worse, 312,000 people simply dropped out of the labor force because they are tired of looking for work that simply is not there.

Third, things still look pretty glum for segments of the population:

-          Men exiting the job market drove the shrinking labor force and unemployment for men spiked to a full percentage point higher than for women

-          Unemployment is up to 22.7 percent for teens

-          Blacks face 13 percent unemployment and Hispanics almost 10 percent

-          Jobless rate for workers with less than a high school education rose to 11.3 percent while for those with a college degree its 3.5 percent and falling

An economist with the Christian Science Monitor commented on the male-female employment gap:

“This report confirms our outlook of lackluster economic growth for the second half of the year,” says Doug Handler, chief US economist at IHS Global Insight, in a written analysis of Friday's Labor report.

The situation lately has been particularly tough for men in blue-collar fields such as construction and manufacturing, Mr. Handler says.

“The size of the labor force shrank by 312,000 in August,” driven entirely by men exiting the job market, he says. “This suggests that much of the decline came from occupations that are male-dominated, such as construction, and that many former workers are becoming discouraged about their job prospects and dropping out of the labor force as a result.”

In part, this reflects decades-old challenges such as the increasing automation and off-shoring of factory jobs. Then, unemployment for men spiked sharply upward during the recession. That has been followed by some recovery (as recently as March, the jobless rates for men and women were equal at 7.6 percent) and now by the divergence.

There is a little light in this report. The number of long-term unemployed fell from a year ago from 5 million to 4.3 million. Full-time employment increased and the number of those stuck in part-time jobs (because they can’t find full-time employment) also fell.

What this tells me is that it’s good to be a young, educated woman in this job market. This doesn’t guarantee you’ll find work but your odds are better. In a society that is increasingly becoming hostile to boys and men, the times are getting tougher for men who’ve worked in the traditionally male-dominated fields.   

We can hope that when the Bureau revises the August numbers it will indicate a better job market, but I’m not holding my breath.

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