The ‘Man-covery’

Women Gaining Jobs in Recovery at a Slower Pace than Men

Heather Boushey says we need to focus on jobs for women, who saw high losses during the recession in state and local government budget cuts.

See also: Sure and Steady Jobs Gains by Heather Boushey

The Great Recession was often referred to in the press as a “man-cession” since men lost three out of every four jobs during that time. But now men are gaining jobs at a faster clip than women in the recovery due in large part to women making up a large number of public-sector employees, who faced massive layoffs amid state and local budget tightening that persists.

Looking over the recession—which the National Bureau of Economic Research says lasted from December 2007 to June 2009—a total of 7.5 million jobs were lost. Of these, men lost 5.4 million and women lost 2.1 million. Men lost more jobs than women because job losses were concentrated in manufacturing and construction, which disproportionately employ men. Figure 1 and the interactive show half of all jobs lost were in these two industries and men lost the majority of jobs in those in two industries.


Because men had sharper job losses the unemployment rate among adult men aged 20 and over spiked to a high of 10.5 percent in October 2009, while adult women’s unemployment only rose to 8.4 percent in November 2010. By the time the recession was officially over the share of adult men with a job hit a record-breaking low of 67.7 percent, though that share fell even further in the following months to a low of 66.4 percent in December 2009.

Mirroring the “man-cession,” the recovery is a “man-covery.” Men gained jobs on net every month but one since March 2010, while women continued to lose jobs month after month through September 2010. It wasn’t until December 2011 that women had on net gained jobs during the recovery. In general, however, women have added jobs month after month at a slower pace than men.

The second interactive shows a key reason why the recovery hasn’t really been a recovery for women. Since August of 2008 state and local governments have shed a total of 647,000 workers, of which 64 percent, or 416,000, were women workers. We predicted this outcome when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed: Because there was insufficient aid to the states in the legislation there were high job losses among women workers who predominate state and local employment.


In a recent New York Times column, Princeton economist Paul Krugman noted that had government employment grown at the same pace during the recovery from the Great Recession as it had during the Reagan recovery, unemployment would be below 7 percent and presumably many more women would be on the job, serving as the breadwinners their families need them to be and providing much-needed services in their communities.

Government has an important role to play in helping to smooth out the ups and downs of the labor market. The Recovery Act focused on getting people back into jobs quickly and has shown success in stemming the high tide of lay-offs and pushing the economy back toward stable job gains. But governments at the state and local level have not been able to help keep people in jobs as tax revenues fell and budgets squeezed. And unfortunately this Congress does not appear to have any appetite for enacting the kinds of policies that would keep state and local government employees in their jobs, nor for infrastructure investment or employment programs, like a reinvigoration and expansion of the TANF Emergency Fund or more funds for national service programs, which could put people into jobs quickly.

Heather Boushey is a Senior Economist at the Center for American Progress.

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Heather Boushey

Former Senior Fellow