By Heather Boushey | May 6, 2011
Washington, D.C.— All kinds of families have faced the prospect of job losses, downsizing, involuntary part-time work, and often less-generous benefits as a result of the Great Recession. Dual-earner, married couples may seem like the luckiest kind of families when it comes to unemployment since they have a second earner to keep the family afloat when one spouse loses their job. New data for 2010, however, highlight that even married couples have been vulnerable to unemployment. And for the first time in decades unemployment has been concentrated among husbands rather than wives.
With so many wives—and women more generally—supporting families there could not be a more important time to ensure that women are paid fairly. The typical woman earns an average of 77 cents on the male dollar, and so when a husband loses his job the family suffers since her earnings are typically lower than his. These data show that addressing this pay inequity should be a key goal of our economic recovery policy agenda.
Further, unemployment has grown sharpest among husbands in older couples, leaving many pre-retirement couples with the double-whammy of falling asset values and limited job prospects. Older workers are having an especially hard time finding re-employment. Job market challenges are compounded by the fact that this generation is the vanguard for our nation’s experiment in the efficacy of 401(k)s as a retirement savings vehicle, even as we’ve lived through the bursting of asset bubbles.
As the nation debates retirement security we need to ensure that focusing on the implications now and potentially far into the future of high unemployment and asset shocks among older workers are integral to the conversation. Yet there is a growing chorus of voices clamoring to pare back government pensions and limit Social Security benefits for future retirees. Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan, for example, would shift an increasing share of the cost of Medicare onto seniors. This policy agenda suffers from a lack of recognition of economic reality.
High unemployment, especially among husbands, is occurring across families, regardless of race or ethnicity. African-American husbands, however, are more likely to be unemployed compared to other husbands. Given the long-standing truism that the rate of African-American unemployment is about double that of white unemployment, and the excruciatingly high unemployment because of the Great Recession, families of color are struggling more than ever. Making sure that all workers—including men of color— have access to good jobs must be a top policy priority.
This brief explores these trends in more depth and offers recommendations going forward. To read the full brief, click here.
Heather Boushey is a Senior Economist at American Progress.