As men recoup jobs, women remain out of work

With the recession in the rearview mirror, Nona Snyder thought she could finally rest easy at her job, serving as director of development and marketing for the Boys & Girls Club. So when she was laid off in June, two years into the so-called recovery, she was shocked.

“I didn’t see it coming at all,” said Ms. Snyder, who has 15 years of experience in fundraising, in addition to previous careers at ABC News and on Capitol Hill. “But they told me they were restructuring and looking down the road for the next five years.”

Since then, Ms. Snyder has sent out 200 résumés and has been on more than 20 interviews in the tristate area and around the country—only to come up dry. Adding insult to injury, many of the positions she has been seeking are going to men.

“There is no question that more women are suffering,” Ms. Snyder said. “There’s definitely a trend toward hiring men.”

The numbers bear out her observation. Though men across the U.S. fared worse during the recession—from December 2007 to June 2009, they suffered more than 70% of the job losses—the recovery has been much tougher on women. From the end of the recession through this past September, women lost 264,000 positions, while men recouped 1.1 million. Last month, women were hired for just 4,000 of the 103,000 jobs created.

“While men are starting to regain jobs, women are continuing to lose jobs, and their unemployment rate is higher now than when the recession ended,” said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. “There was a ‘man-cession,’ but now there’s a ‘he-covery.’ ”

Economists say part of the reason for the disparity between men and women right now has to do with the heavy job losses in the public sector, where women make up more than half the workforce. The source of the trouble: state budget cuts.

“State budgets lag behind in a recession; it’s a year or two after the slump that states make cuts,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Those cuts hit women more than men.”

Indeed, a large portion of the recent layoffs has been in public education, a field populated mostly by women. Earlier this month, for example, New York City cut 672 school employees, the largest single-agency layoff since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002. Nationwide, women have lost more than 70% of the 572,000 public-sector positions cut between June 2009 and September 2011.

No relief from private sector

But the situation is also grim for women in the private sector. While that sector added 1.4 million jobs nationally over the course of the recovery through September, women snagged just one in 10 of those positions.

These figures represent fundamental conditions in the labor market that favor men, economists say—the same conditions that have led to unequal pay and the glass ceiling. Recessions tend to amplify pre-existing labor conditions, which include a stubborn wage gap and the difficulty women face in taking on high-level jobs while raising a family.

Though women gained ground in the workplace during the 1970s and 1980s, that progress sputtered to a standstill during the mid-’90s. In fact, only 12 women currently head Fortune 500 companies, down from 15 in 2010.

Valerie Peters, who lost her job as senior director of communications and public affairs at Yeshiva University at the end of 2010, said she has noticed that among her friends who’ve been laid off, the men are finding new posts much faster than the women.

“Most of my male friends were not out of work for more than two or three months,” said Ms. Peters, who worked at Yeshiva for nearly four years and has two decades of experience in communications and marketing. “I’m not sure how to explain it.”

Since leaving Yeshiva, Ms. Peters has sent out 85 queries and has had about two dozen interviews in New York and overseas. In the case of one university job for which she was a top contender, Ms. Peters said, she lost out to a man who was much more junior. In many cases, the positions for which she was in the running simply dissolved during the process as fearful employers changed their minds about hiring.

Ms. Snyder, the fundraiser, has experienced the same thing.

“People want to meet you, but they don’t want to fill the position until they see what’s going on in Greece or until the elections,” Ms. Snyder said. “They are very worried we’re heading into another recession.”

The situation is leaving women with few places to turn. Lisa John, who worked as a clerk for a private insurance firm, was laid off in January. Now she is applying to anything she feels is “stable,” sending applications to local hospitals and going after government jobs, such as positions in transportation or at the postal service. Experts warn, though, that government jobs may be the least reliable now.

Children at risk

Economists say that the increased unemployment among women has broader implications for the economy and the nation’s poverty rates. A full 55% of all poor children live in households headed by single mothers, a group that is at greater risk in tough times.

“When a woman who is a single parent loses her job, she has so much less to fall back on, and she is more likely to fall into poverty than a married-couple family,” the law center’s Ms. Entmacher said. “A large number of single parents are women, and when we see high unemployment numbers for single parents, it’s a very serious problem for the whole society.”

About Eliza Ronalds-Hannon