September 20 2013

Why Is the Employment Picture a Little Rosier for Women?

Patrice J. Lee

Food service, hospitality and retail drive female employment growth.

Following the August jobs report we reported that it is good to be a young, educated woman because your employment prospects are better and it’s true. However, that just means the ease of finding work isn’t as bad for young women as it is for men. That’s no glowing recommendation.

Now we’re learning that part of what is driving hiring for educated young women is hiring in sectors that don’t require a degree: food service, retail, and leisure and hospitality. According to the National Women’s Law Center, an organization we rarely quote here, about 60 percent of the increase in employment for women from 2009 to 2012 was in jobs that pay less than $10 an hour, compared with 20 percent for men. Those are not the medium or high-paying jobs.

Still, in general, the employment picture for women is a little rosier than for men. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the jobless rate last month for women 20 years or older was 6.3 percent compared to 7.1 percent for men.

Bloomberg explains:

The numbers expose a soft spot in an economic recovery that has reduced the overall unemployment rate to 7.3 percent from 10 percent in October 2009. Quality of jobs is an increasing concern for U.S. policy makers and economists since it affects the level of incomes and wage disparities.

Of the 125,000 jobs women gained last month, 54,000 were in retail, leisure and hospitality, and just 24,000 in professional and business services. Many of those are part-time, 34 hours or less a week.

Food services and drinking places have added 354,000 jobs this year alone. “The place jobs have grown the most has been in these parts of the economy that women have traditionally filled more easily,” said Diane Swonk, who studies labor trends as chief economist for Mesirow Financial Inc. in Chicago.

Women have taken restaurant and retail jobs instead of teaching and other public-sector career positions that have disappeared, said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the Washington-based law center. Females lost 444,000 public-sector jobs in the four years starting in June 2009, when the recession ended, compared with 290,000 for men.

 

While the personal stories featured in this Bloomberg article are sad, what immediately came to mind are recent comments by actor Ashton Kutcher who said to millions of teens during the Teen Choice Awards: “opportunity looks a lot like hard work. … I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job.”

Perhaps the notable job growth in the latter part of the previous decade and early to mid 2000s spurned by advances in technology and social media created a false sense of what young Americans should expect for their first jobs. And now we’re seeing that they may have to work a little harder for a little longer doing what they didn’t earn their degree in but in jobs that build skills and values of humility, hard work, discipline, patience and a good attitude.

Let this not excuse the anemic economic recovery that has left jobs behind thanks to our national policies. If the economy were recovering at a moderate rate of even 3 percent (quality) job growth will be a likelihood instead of a casualty.

I admire people who are willing to work hard in low skilled and often difficult jobs. I can also sympathize with how anxious many young educated people—men and women—are to pursue their careers and begin earning enough to repay educational debt, support independence and experience the life milestones that they have been forced to postpone like purchasing a first home, marriage and parenthood.

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