Center for American Progress

Interactive Graphic: Women Still Primary Breadwinners

Interactive Graphic: Women Still Primary Breadwinners

Women are still the primary breadwinners, writes Heather Boushey, but they may begin to catch up to men's unemployment if job gains stall in the sectors that disproportionately employ them.


The Great Recession has left millions of women nationwide to be the primary breadwinner—a task made more challenging since women typically earn only 78 cents for every dollar men earn.

As the hemorrhaging of jobs in manufacturing and construction continues to destroy livelihoods, men continue to bear the brunt of job losses in this 17 month-long recession. As of May 2009—the latest data available—women account for a record high of 49.8 percent of all payroll jobs. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Establishment Survey, men account for 74.2 percent of all jobs lost since the recession began in December 2007.

Women may begin to catch up to men if job gains stall in the sectors that disproportionately employ women. After months of holding up female employment, however, the federal and state governments began to shed jobs in June. The federal government lost 49,000 jobs, while state governments lost 4,000 jobs. This may be a one-month statistical blip in the data, but if this trend continues it does not bode well for women’s employment holding up in the months to come given that women make up nearly 6 out of every 10 government workers.

In June, the share of men with a job hit another all-time low of 67.7 percent. It continues to be the case that the sheer number of men dropping out of the labor force after a spell of unemployment is higher than the number of women—which was rarely the case prior to 2009. In June, a record 1.4 million men left the labor force after reporting being unemployed in May, compared to a near-record 1.2 million women.

The share of adult men unemployed rose to 10 percent, just one-tenth of a percent shy of its 1982 post-Great Depression record high of 10.1 percent. The share of adult women unemployed rose to 7.6 percent, still well below the 1982 high of 9.3 percent. The 2.4 percentage-point gap remains at a high not seen at any other time since 1948.

Heather Boushey is a Senior Economist at the Center for American Progress. For more on this topic, please visit our Economy page.

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Heather Boushey

Former Economist

Member of the Council of Economic Advisers and Chief Economist to the Invest in America Cabinet