Sep 19, 2009

It's a Man's, Man's, Man's, Mancession

Despite some signs of an economic rebound in the stock market, housing sales, and other areas, unemployment continues to rise. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the national unemployment rate has reached 9.7%. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the jobless rate in California has hit 12.2%, with 2.25 million residents of the Golden State out of work and actively looking for new jobs.

People are starting to refer to our current economic situation as a "mancession," because so many who have lost their jobs are male. Nationally, the BLS reports that the male unemployment rate is 10.1%, while the female unemployment rate is only 7.6%. As a result of this skew, women now make up virtually half of the workforce, for the first time in history.

This morning, the New York Times reported on one effect of these statistics: Women who left the workforce after having children are trying to return to work, often to replace a spouse's lost income or hedge against the possibility of a spouse's layoff down the road. 

The article focuses on women who had the option of staying home with their children, so it's necessarily limited in scope to the upper end of the economic spectrum. A lot of the women profiled were attorneys, for example. And, it's a little bit hard to find too much sympathy for someone who had to return to work in part to offset investment losses "in the healthy six figures." Still, it's one more fundamental change attributable to the recession.

I'm interested in hearing how this gender shift in employment will affect overall pay and benefits. Not every working woman is an attorney pulling down a six-figure salary. In fact, women tend to earn less than men on average (currently thought to be about 80 cents on the dollar), are more likely to work part-time jobs, and are less likely to receive benefits. Will the gender shift -- and the resulting increase in families being supported primarily by women's work -- lead to higher pay and benefits for women? Or will pay and benefits decrease as women increase their participation in the labor force?