After 'mancession,' women falling behind

Image: Liz Fenimore
Liz Fenimore, who lost her job 18 months ago, sleeps on a couch since moving into her daughter's home in Sacramento, Calif., recently.Max Whittaker / Prime for

The recession was so hard on male workers, especially in the fields of manufacturing and construction, that some dubbed it the “mancession.”

But now, as the economy slowly limps back to health, new research shows that men appear to be faring better than women in the job market.

Although women lost nearly one in three of jobs cut between December 2007 and December 2009, they have gained back only about 1 in 10 of the jobs added during 2010, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Experts from the National Women’s Law Center, which first noted the disparity, say women are faring worse partly because of steep and continuing cuts in government jobs. Women make up more than half of all government workers, but they lost 86 percent of the 220,000 jobs cut in that sector during 2010.

That’s especially troubling because many expect state and local government agencies to continue to cut jobs through at least this year, as they grapple with serious budget woes.

“We could see women losing even more ground in a year when the economy overall is starting a recovery,” said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center.

In general, female workers are more likely to be employed than male workers, but the gap is narrowing. The unemployment rate for women 20 and over rose to 8.1 percent in December from 7.8 percent in January 2010. Meanwhile, the rate for men fell to 9.4 percent from 10 percent.

Liz Fenimore works out at the Natomas Racquet Club in Sacramento, Calif. January 17, 2011.Max Whittaker

Some women say they are being left behind just as the economy begins to gain momentum.

Fear of being seen as ‘Grandma’
Elizabeth Fenimore, 56, estimates she has sent out 10 to 15 resumes a week since losing her job as a graphic designer for trade show booths about 18 months ago.

So far she has only gotten close to getting one job. After three rounds of interviews, she said she lost out on that position to a man with fewer years of experience.

“It doesn’t matter that I have experience,” she said. “They’re looking at my age, you know, and that I’m a girl, and they see ‘Grandma.’ I don’t look like a grandma, but I think that’s what they’re seeing.”

Fenimore, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., recently moved in with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren to save money while she continues her job search.

Having worked steadily since she was 16 and raised three children, Fenimore said she never expected to find herself sleeping on her daughter’s couch at this point in her life. She exercises daily, in part to keep her spirits up, and tries to keep a sense of humor.

“My job right now is to keep myself positive, keep myself fit,” she said.

It is taking women longer to find new jobs. For women 16 and over it is taking an average 24.3 weeks to find a new job, compared with 20.7 weeks for men, according to the latest BLS figures.

The discrepancy widens even further for older jobseekers such as Fenimore. For 55- to 64-year-old women, the median job search time is 39.1 weeks, compared with 29.6 weeks for men in that age range.

‘I didn’t think it was going to be this hard’
Lisa Kortebein, 39, never thought it would take her this long to find a job. The Milwaukee, Wis., resident has been looking for work since January 2009, when she was laid off from her job as copy writer for a department store.

Her unemployment has run out, so she’s living off her savings while she pursues a master’s in public administration and continues to apply for jobs.

“I thought it was going to be hard, but I didn’t think it was going to be this hard,” she said.

Kortebein recently did some volunteer work, which she said she enjoyed in part because it reminded her of the camaraderie and social aspect of being in an office.

“I’ve never made a lot of money; it’s not the most important thing to me,” she said. “I‘ve just wanted to be a productive member of society.”

Pay gap
Although women lost a lower percentage of jobs in the recession, female workers have had to deal with other workplace problems, including a prevalence of low-wage work with few benefits, said Mary Gatta, senior scholar with the advocacy group Wider Opportunities for Women.

Related: More men expect raises, bonuses

Female workers make about 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the most recent 2009 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Gatta notes that the recession has been difficult for all workers, male or female.

“The whole idea of this ‘mancession’ has always been so interesting because it is definitely true that we saw huge job losses in the building trades … but it never meant that women were doing well,” Gatta said. “It was always strange to see an either/or.”

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