USA: Job losses, Women out of work

Published on The Economist, April 18, 2012.

NOW that the latest round of America’s ongoing “Mommy Wars” appears to be simmering down, it might be a fitting time for cooler heads to consider the substance of the issue that generated all the faux-rage. At issue are Mitt Romney’s recent claims that Barack Obama’s policies have actually been bad for women—specifically, that as a result of the incumbent’s policies, 92.3% of the net jobs lost in America since January 2009 have been lost by women. “The real war on women is being waged by the president’s failed economic policies,” is how Mr Romney put it.  

For Mr Romney’s critics, the claim is a cynical gambit: an effort to convince the voters that despite what Mr Obama might say about women’s rights, and despite the fact that some Republicans are inveighing against them, it is the president, armed with his economic policies, who is waging war. Even among Republicans, the claim has been received sceptically. “It just doesn’t sound right,” notes Byron York; most of this year’s voters have been around for a while, that is, and they’ve noticed men losing a lot of jobs too.

This raises two questions. First of all, is it true? And secondly, if it were true, what should policymakers do about it, if anything? … //

… Interestingly, however, women aren’t the ones struggling with jobs right now. Their unemployment rate has lagged that of men for most of the recession, and is now equal—not because women are losing jobs so much as because men have been going back to work. And significantly, women may be more insulated from job losses in the future than men. Many of the men’s losses were in goods-producing sectors that will recover slowly, if at all. Women are more likely to work in service-providing jobs, such as schools or health care—functions where outsourcing is less likely, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects healthy job growth in the future. Women are also less likely to drop out of high school than men, and more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree, both of which are outcomes that suggest that they should be more insulated than men from future job losses.

This isn’t to say that women aren’t concerned about economic issues, or that they don’t face a harder road than men, in some respects. They continue to earn less money than men, for example, and remain responsible for a greater share of dependent care than men. As I said last week on Democracy in America, Mr Romney was right to say that women are concerned about economic issues, and that they have good reason to be. But if the issue at hand is strictly job losses, then the Romney campaign’s claim doesn’t make much sense. You might even say it’s like when a shifty boyfriend turns up with flowers: one’s appreciation of the gesture is tempered by suspicion. (full text).


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