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Government job losses affecting women most

– After eight years as a guidance counselor at Scotts Valley High School and more than 14 years with the district in Santa Cruz County, Calif., Kimberly Frey says she lost her job in June as part of budget cuts.

Since then, she has forgone health insurance and sold her car to save money while looking for similar guidance work, with no options in sight.

“It’s really dried up for school counselors here,” she said. “It’s very discouraging.”

Frey’s situation reflects a trend in which women have been losing the government jobs they dominate even as the private sector has added positions. Women have lost 454,000 federal, state and local government jobs compared with 267,000 by men since the 18-month recession ended in June 2009, Bureau of Labor Statistics records indicate.

The gap has widened in the past year even as government job losses have slowed. Government payrolls cut about five times as many women as men in 2012, and the pattern is continuing. In January, women surrendered 8,000 positions compared with 1,000 for men.

State and local governments have done the majority of firing as their revenues plummeted and are poised for a rebound as the economy picks up. Yet the imbalance could persist with the federal spending reductions that began March 1, said Harry Holzer, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and former chief economist at the Department of Labor.

The reductions, known as sequestration, could trim growth by 0.5 percentage point this year and wipe out 350,000 jobs if they remain in place through December, according to the median forecast of 26 economists surveyed by Bloomberg in late February.

“The direct effect will be the layoff of federal workers, and that should hit women harder,” Holzer said. How it affects the genders depends on how agencies implement the changes. Public cutbacks seem to have disproportionately hit office and clerical jobs more likely to be filled by women, he said. “I fear that we could see that on the federal side.”

The public-sector cuts didn’t occur after past recessions and have slowed women’s recovery this time, said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington.

That has exacerbated a typical post-recession pattern in which women’s unemployment peaks later and recovers more slowly than men’s. “If women continue to suffer job losses in the public sector, women could have a higher unemployment rate than men,” she said.

The female unemployment rate for those 20 and older has stagnated post-recession – dropping 1.1 percentage points from its November 2010 high of 8.4 percent – as one government job was erased for every four private positions women gained.

The unemployment rate for men over 20 has improved faster than women’s, falling by 3.1 percentage points from its 10.4 percent peak in October 2009. In December, women’s unemployment rate surpassed men’s for the first time since 2006, and in January the rates were equal.

This recovery and expansion diverges from previous ones because of the public cuts, said Francine Blau, an economics professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Usually, more male-dominated jobs disappear during downturns as construction and manufacturing industries suffer. Women hold more positions in health-care, retail and service industries, which are less economy-sensitive.

Businesses and consumers spend on construction and manufactured items as recoveries begin, resulting in more men being hired. Women regain jobs less dramatically as the rest of the economy catches up, having lost fewer jobs in less-cyclical industries, Blau said. In the private sector, the pattern held. As of January, men have regained almost 3.2 million of the about 5.4 million private jobs they lost during the recession.

Women added about 1.8 million private jobs after losing 2.3 million in that same time period, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll data.

Yet continuing public cuts have affected primarily women, who make up about 57 percent of overall government payrolls and are concentrated at state and local levels, which have taken the worst hit.

While President Obama’s $831 billion stimulus poured money into the economy to preserve and create government jobs, state and local officials were later forced to balance budgets with diminished tax collections.

States and local governments are starting to mend.