Economic Recovery Leaves Women Behind

The Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs, which includes Interfaith Worker Justice, released this statement on the February 2012 unemployment statistics. IWJ is working with more than 40 faith communities and congregations on the Faith Advocates for Jobs campaign to support the unemployed and end the jobs crisis. 

As people of faith, we continue to be concerned about our country’s slow economic recovery. With this month’s release of the February 2012 unemployment rates, we see yet another sign that while economists may say that the recession has ended, the reality of unemployment and underemployment remains true for millions of Americans—particularly those often left on the margins of the conversation about economic recovery.

The February unemployment rate was essentially unchanged from the previous month at 8.3 percent. While the total jobless number is 12.8 million, 227,000 jobs were created in February. Still there remains a startling 5.4 million people who are long term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) — 42.6 percent of the unemployed population.

The unemployment rate for specific worker groups included:

  • Adult men was 7.7 percent
  • Adult women was 7.7 percent
  • Whites was 7.3 percent
  • Blacks was 14.1 percent
  • Hispanics was 10.7 percent
  • Asians was 6.3 percent.

Last month’s unemployment numbers give some hope that the economy may be starting to rebound. While we watch for further signs ofeconomic and job growth, we must remain vigilant in caring for those who are still unable to find a job. In particular, there are certain communities, women specifically, who have not seen the benefits of the recovery. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 1.3 million jobs created in the last 12 months, 90 percent have gone to men. In fact, women have gained just 149,000 jobs in the past year. Statistics show that while men lost more jobs during the recession than did women, since the recovery began, men have far exceeded women in finding and keeping new jobs.

 A number of reports explain this disparity in part by demonstrating that most of the recovery has occurred in the private sector, while jobs are still being cut in the public sector—an industry where many women have jobs. In addition, jobs in female-dominated fields (teachers, nurses, child care and homecare workers, etc) in the public sector have experienced losses while the male dominated fields (construction and technology for publicly funded projects) have been maintained, likely due to stimulus spending. 

Because of the delay in job creation at the state and local level in fields that disproportionally employ women, many females are finding themselves among the long-term unemployed. 

The situation becomes more dire when one looks at the numbers for subgroups of women. According to a May 2011 study on women’s employment by the U.S. Department of Labor, “Not only has the unemployment rate remained high for female teens, but a large number are no longer in the labor force—either working or looking for work.” The National Women’s Law Center reports that the unemployment rate for black women has gone up (11.6 percent in June 2009 to 12.6 percent in January 2012), and for single mothers as well (11.7 percent to 12 percent).

As we have learned throughout this recession, even those who are lucky enough to find work are often times not working enough hours or receiving enough pay. The Department of Labor reports, “One in five women working part-time are doing so because they can’t find full-time work.”

 As we consider these monthly reflections of our economy’s health, we remind our elected officials that they must soon create and debate legislation that aims to create jobs and strengthen our economy without forgetting about those who are at greatest risk of impoverishment and hardship, including women.

  As scripture tells us, “Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.” Proverbs 31.