Unemployed Face Fewer Jobs, Fewer Hours, and Smaller Safety Net

January 25, 2012 | Alex Stone

Unemployment remains persistently high, despite the “official” end of the recession in June of 2009. But recent improvements in the overall unemployment rate don’t tell the whole story. The “shadow” unemployment rate, which includes unemployed, underemployed, underutilized and discouraged workers, is a more accurate representation, including workers who have given up looking for jobs, and those who have exhausted UI benefits.

Part-time employment shot up during the recession, both for men and women.  In 2010, men’s part-time employment rates declined, probably because many of them returned to full-time work. Yet women’s rate of part-time employment remained high, peaking at almost 38%. More men than women worked part-time due to economic reasons, meaning they wanted full-time work but could not find it. Even so, the percentage of women working part-time for economic reasons nearly doubled from 2007 to 2010. 

Young workers and women of color have suffered the most in the job market. In Washington, white men age 25-64 experienced higher rates of unemployment in 2010 than white women, but among people of color in that age group, women were more likely to be unemployed.  Washingtonians aged 16-24 were more than twice as likely to be unemployed as any other age group.  Nearly one-third of African women in that age group were unemployed.

Long-term unemployment is a problem most evident among older workers.  In Washington, over half of workers age 55 or older were unemployed for at least 27 weeks in 2010. From 2009 to 2010, long term unemployment increased both for women (from 24%-32%) and for men (from 27% to 40%).  Many of the unemployed have exhausted their unemployment insurance, including 60,000 in Washington by August of 2011.

According to a recent survey, over three-quarters of those who exhausted their UI benefits still had not found jobs. Without a job or unemployment insurance, many resort to desperate measures such as spending retirement savings, falling behind on bills, rent, or mortgage, and sinking deep into debt.

While the recession caused unusual levels of male unemployment, men have started to regain jobs while women continue to lose them. One contributing factor: significant job loss in the public sector – including thousands of K-12 teachers – a majority female workforce. From December 2008 to July 2011 women lost 473,000 public sector jobs, while men lost only 109,000.

From February 2008 to February 2010, Washington lost 62,000 construction jobs, mostly worked by men. By October 2011, the private sector regained 63,000 jobs, many of them in manufacturing, wholesale trade, and software publishing, which are also predominantly male industries. Meanwhile, Washington lost 6,000 state and local government jobs as well as 6,000 public school jobs, 75% of which were held by women. While pundits declared a “mancession” in 2008, it is clear that women are facing high unemployment and female-dominated industries are not showing as much job growth as male-dominated sectors.

Economists may have declared an end to the recession, but the jobless recovery continues to hurt average Americans. Nearly one-fifth of Washingtonians remain unemployed, underemployed, and/or discouraged through no fault of their own, and we need a strong safety net to keep people out of poverty and provide job training now more than ever. Washington’s economy can return stronger than it was before the recession began, but we’ll need a highly skilled and well-educated workforce to do so.

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Posted in State Economy, Women in the Workforce

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