“You could say that it rained, and that everyone got a little wet.” That’s how Nicole Smith, a senior economist at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), described the employment effects of the 2007–09 recession. And as with most rains, effects were not evenly distributed. Some people got a little wet, and others got caught in a downpour—without their umbrellas writes Lela Somoza in Who Is the Most Unemployed? Factors Affecting Joblessness in a report published by the Federal reserve of Atlanta. (Adapted excerpts by Job Market Monitor)
There has been a deluge of stories in the media about the plight of men in this past recession. Commentators even coined the term “mancession” to describe the relatively worse labor market outcomes men faced during and immediately following the downturn. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), by the end of the recession, men accounted for about three-quarters of job losses, or roughly 4.6 million jobs. This severe drop in male employment was disproportionate to their share of the labor force, which stood at roughly 54 percent at the end of 2007.
The unemployment rates for men and women also showed considerable variations, with the jobless rate for men peaking at 11.2 percent in 2009, compared to the 9 percent peak for women more than a year later. Though men’s unemployment was especially dramatic in the recent downturn, this is not the first time they have been caught in the storm. Indeed, men have experienced higher rates of unemployment during or immediately following recessions since the early 1980s.
One of the most important factors behind the unemployment gender gap is that men are overwhelmingly represented in sectors that are typically hit hard. In construction and manufacturing, for example, from December 2007 to June 2009, employment fell 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
Women, on the other hand, are heavily concentrated in sectors that are usually more resistant to ups and downs in the business cycle. A prime example is the education and health services sector, where employment actually grew 3.4 percent during this past recession. In addition, women are nearly 50 percent more likely than men to work in the public sector, which also added jobs in the downturn.
Although experts assert that education is not the sole determinant of labor market success, there is still an important relationship between the two. In some ways, education has served as an umbrella during this and previous recessions, helping to shield workers from a raging economic storm. A 2010 report by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce elaborates, arguing that “postsecondary education carries with it one important advantage in today’s economy: protection. Workers with college degrees had the lowest unemployment rates over the past three years, thus receiving the best possible shelter from the Great Recession of 2007. They also have the greatest prospects for getting hired in the recovery.”
As the CEW’s Smith explained, “In this recession, the ability to bounce back from job loss was substantially improved if you had some type of postsecondary training and education.”
As the recent recession and recovery have demonstrated, the storms and lulls in the labor market are rarely felt evenly among its participants. A variety of factors, including education and industry concentration, mean that some groups will remain vulnerable to job losses. However, as the economic recovery gains speed, the employment prospects for all workers should continue to improve.