Just When I Thought the Hecession Obsession was Over…

Lisa Belkin revives it:

Women have gained this latest bit of ground mostly because men have lost it — 78 percent of the jobs lost during this recession were held by men. So not only is it unseemly to rejoice over a larger share of a smaller pie, it is also unsettling to face the fact that so much of the history of women in the workplace (both their leaps forward and their slips back) is a reaction to what was happening to men.

Look, it’s not that I can’t appreciate the statistics. Clearly men are losing jobs. Middle class and low-income American families are really straining. Women and men’s workforce participation is inextricably linked, along with their gender roles within the home. No doubt about it.
But why must we belabor these issues–economic decline, job loss–through a sex/gender dichotomy? He suffers vs. she gains is not the most compelling lens within which we can understand the current economic crisis or changing culture in the American workforce. Nor is it the most nuanced. In many ways, it feels like a large distraction from some of the more pressing issues that this economic moment presents: corporate conglomeration, class disparity, wealth accumulation and preservation, the lack of state and federal safety nets for the average American etc. etc.
There’s some heavy analysis and powerful argumentation to be made. Instead we’re raining all over the small and humble parade by feminists excited that women’s participation in the workforce is nearing 50%. Ugh.

Join the Conversation

  • MarySophia

    The increased percentage of women in the workplace isn’t due to an advance in societal attitudes toward women, but to the fact that, as a whole, women are in more “recession-proof” jobs and fields. I’ll celebrate when there’s an increase in working women, not a decrease in working men.

  • englishteacher

    The article also says that part of the reason women are keeping/getting jobs that men aren’t is because women will accept less pay. Yay wage gap.

  • Nina

    Damn straight, Courtney. Articles like this are completely unproductive and just end up pitting both genders against each other instead of having people work together to solve the real problems. It’s unbelievably frustrating.

  • rebekah

    why does everything that happens to men always have to be blamed on women? Seriously where does it say that I have to take the blame because a bunch of idiotic privileged men have decided to spend money in an irresponsible way?

  • MarySophia

    I haven’t heard anyone blaming women for the recession or men’s loss of jobs. Could you give an example of what you mean?

  • TD

    Yeah that was a particularly poor analysis. The reason education isn’t contracting is because it’s a stable field, not because its workers are paid less. Same goes for health care.
    Construction, manufacturing, etc. are not stable fields, construction is being hit hard because it is hit hard every recession. Which is probably part of the reason it pays better, because your going to need to deal with all that downtime.

  • TD

    But why must we belabor these issues–economic decline, job loss–through a sex/gender dichotomy?
    The stimulus package was supposed to help the hardest hit sectors. The National Organization of Women had a fit because that would have meant helping men more than women. So they instead argued that large amounts of money should go into fields such as education and health care (a push partially supported by you) even though there is not significant unemployment in those sectors. In healthcare for instance there is a massive shortage, which means that any money spent will not affect unemployment.
    Despite women representing only 20% of the layoffs the National Organization of Women convinced Obama to make sure 40% of the money went towards women. So I guess you have a good question. Why did feminists have to view this through a narrow gendered lens? Why weren’t feminists able to understand that a slow construction sector only discourages more women from going into it? Why weren’t they content for the money to go to the unemployed rather then to specifically divert it towards women?

  • zillah975.info

    She’s not blaming women for anything. She ends the article with the same sort of thing I’ve seen expressed on many feminist websites when the argument is put forth that because women aren’t losing their jobs at the same rate as men, it means women are doing better or are somehow benefiting from men’s job losses: that women aren’t losing jobs at the same rate because women tend to be paid less. Last I checked, that was true, whether it’s because we’re in an historically lower-paid field, or because women don’t make as much as men for the same job.
    If I had only read as far as the bit you quote, I would have come away with the same impression of the article as you did. But the overall thrust of the article is not reflected in the bit you quoted. I would say it’s more accurately reflected in this bit from the second page:
    The point that the increase of women in the workplace is not somehow a victory for women is driven home by the fact that the most successful and highly paid women are losing their jobs at the same rates as successful and highly paid men.
    [...]
    Cataclysms are often classrooms. What we are learning from this one is that women have not reached parity, no matter what next month’s jobs data say. It is not good news when women surpass men because women are worth less. Perversely, real progress might come when we reach the place where a financial wallop means women lose as much ground as men.

  • Comrade Kevin

    What I wonder is whether this job gain will be temporary, much like the job gains made by women during World War II and then given back when men returned from war.

  • TD

    They did not gain any jobs. Women’s employment has decreased too. There are simply more men in cyclical industries such as construction, thus women’s unemployment has increased more slowly.

  • Tabitha

    I agree with all of you. It’s more about women working in more recession-resistant jobs and those jobs pay less than the jobs that men most often occupy.
    But think about it…What if the recession had hit women the hardest? It would be explained as the women’s own fault–THEY CHOSE jobs that were risky in a tough economy. OR THEY CHOSE to work in jobs that are dispensible when times are tough. After all, that’s how the pay gap is explained.
    So turn about is fair play right? Men Chose to work in jobs that aren’t all that essential in tough times,…right???

  • Craig R

    I disagree that women are “gaining” jobs at the “expense” of men.
    What is happening is that, in this “job-loss recovery,” corporate forces are doing preferential hiring because they (the corporations) are able to push those with higher wages to the curb.
    I’d also like to see the analysis of the age of the workers involved. I’d wager that, for the most part, employers are preferentially hiring younger works, because those younger workers are more willing to take abuse from the employer without fighting back because they don’t know that they *have* an avenue of redress, and because they don’t have the experience of knowing that the lousy way things are now was not always the norm.
    An employer will be willing to employ the younger woman with less training, because they (the employers) perceive the worker with less demonstrative agency, and a much lower wage level, is a valid trade-off with the lack of training and experience.
    Which really says something disturbing about our current corporate culture.

  • bartelbe

    Could this be the reason for the pay gap? That women are trading higher incomes for more job security? I don’t know know, since I haven’t looked at the American employment statistics. All I’m trying to point out, is that drawing conclusions from very broad stats. Esspecially if those stats represent soemthing as complex as a labour market containing millions of workers, and thousands of employers. Is a dangerous thing to do. Just like claiming that it is somehow sexist that more men are now loosing there jobs, is very simplistic.

  • spike the cat

    Hmmm. I’m not sure I follow. The break down of the stimulus money is here in a pdf linked in the article:
    http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/17/obama-signs-stimulus-packed-with-clean-energy-provisions/
    It seems to me that a disproportionate amount of money went toward clean energy, infrastructure, research and technology–all areas heavily skewed toward male earners.
    And from what I can tell from the report the single largest chunk of health care spending by far was earmarked for improvements in health care technology, 19 billion vs 2 billion for preventative care.
    By the reports own account, education spending was not based on sparing jobs but rather on the then projected $350 billion in budget shortfalls by the states which threatened massive cuts in a number of areas including infrastructure and community colleges. Again, male earners represented here as well.
    I can certainly see the class implications though. Heaviest spending seems skewed toward highly skilled fields such as engineering and research…

  • EGhead

    “But why must we belabor these issues–economic decline, job loss–through a sex/gender dichotomy? He suffers vs. she gains is not the most compelling lens within which we can understand the current economic crisis or changing culture in the American workforce. Nor is it the most nuanced. In many ways, it feels like a large distraction…”
    Am I the only one who feels like this could have been written by an anti-feminist n00b? Seriously, since when do we as feminists NOT look at things through a a sex/gender dichotomy? Since when is ‘there are other ways of looking at this/ other problems going on’ a VALID critique of a discussion? Courtney, your disdain of this whole thing is absolutely baffling and your professed logic here does more to add to my confusion than explain your rationale.
    I’m going to get totally flamed for this, but could all of this resistance to even discussing the recession in terms of gender be a reaction to the fact that, well, it IS the men who are losing the most jobs? I mean, you guys can’t even seem to acknowledge how that also hurts women, it’s like you just want to move away from this as quickly as possible. If 78% of these lost jobs belonged to women I feel like we would not be having this discussion.
    I’m a regular reader of and semi-frequent commenter at a lot of feminist blogs. This is not coming from a place of opposition… just, well, disbelief.

  • Gesyckah

    No, they aren’t hiring younger workers. Labor statistics are showing that it is a very tough time to be a younger worker with little experience who just received an undergraduate or graduate degree and is searching for an entry level job. I’ll stop there at the risk of derailing into a “Capitalism fail” rant.
    Also you can’t just preferentially hire younger people (age discrimination: something I learned in graduate school that may someday get me a job). You can offer unpaid student internships *vomit*, but obviously students can only work 40 hours a week during the summer. Employers have to hire the best qualified candidates and that contributes to new graduates not being able to find jobs. Of course, underpaid employees aren’t going to want to stay at a job they are overqualified for if the economy turns around, but…derail.

  • AuntieMay

    “If 78% of these lost jobs belonged to women I feel like we would not be having this discussion.”
    This IS a valid point.
    Regardless, men have used their own agency to decide which career path to follow. If they follow a career path that is insecure in times of recession, I’m not going to muster up much sympathy. It’s not like employment trends are a big secret.
    Men are also not pursuing higher education in the same gross numbers. College enrollments are now majority female. I say gross numbers because the hard sciences in academia are still heavily male. But higher education is a path to career advancement and if men are pursuing that option, there are certainly career consequences.
    I have tried to steer my sons towards careers which are not so cyclical. The unintended side affect has been that my oldest (24) is seriously considering a career (a CAREER!) in the military. He has not shown interest in the hard sciences and now has a degree in history. His job search for something better than his minimum wage retail job has proven absolutely fruitless and I understand his frustration. He feels that he has to work at something better. He is also finding it very hard to find a girlfriend – something he blames on his inability to make more money. I disagree, I think the girls he is attracted to are not worth his time.
    It’s important to see the gender-related aspect of this recession, if anything to learn for the future and adjust public policy so that the impact of future recessions doesn’t impact one gender more negatively than the other.

  • AuntieMay

    I wish these comments had an edit feature…
    “But higher education is a path to career advancement and if men are NOT pursuing that option, there are certainly negative career consequences.”

  • TD

    The breakdown you’re looking at shows a remnants of the original plan. Further several billion dollars went to various education programs including half a billion to educate new nurses, and while the education programs are all noble in their own merits universities are not having a difficult time finding students (to the contrary many students intend to ride out the recession while pursuing another degree because the extra debt is easier to bear than to be unemployed). Educating more nurses solves the problems of the nursing shortage several years from now, but does nothing to solve the economic crisis we find ourselves in today. It has a very small multiplier effect, it does not hire new employees, and it is not a quickly started project It has none of the hallmarks of a good stimulus package.
    Its been a while since I’ve looked at I/O data but IIRC a single construction job creates around 5 more jobs. Most jobs other jobs will only create around one more.

  • TD

    Sorry, no. Younger workers have the highest unemployment of any age group. They represent a cost for employers to hire, and unions always place their head on the chopping blocks first. You need at least 3 years of experience in your chosen career to get your foot in the door anywhere. How do you get three years of experience when no ones hiring? Well, that’s just a problem then.

  • Logrus

    I’m reminded on a sketch form a Seattle area show called “Almost Live” and the bit was called “Middle Management Suckups”. Well guys you shoved women into the service level jobs by and large, which was great for you in a heavy surplus economy; but in a recession, top-heavy companies need those service level positions staffed because service level is th only revenue generating level but upper management sure as fuck ain’t going to cut back on their own perks if they can avoid it. I guess beating out Louise for the much vaunted job of “executive inter office fax forwarder” isn’t looking so good.
    Sadly Louise’s company loyalty and dedication to her job will again be overlooked during the next surplus when the laid-off middle management people come back to work (or their sons do).

  • Gopher

    You also started the boys crisis, dont forget! Females are also to blame for boys slightly lower scores at school. Thats why there should be gender segregation, Boys get to do active things and speak loud in lareg groups and girls get to sit in small groups and are encouraged to be passive and quiet.

  • Gopher

    Weird TD, thats the same unsubstaitiated realities the MRA’s push.

  • spike the cat

    Can you send me a link? Because I’m frustrated at hearing about all of this superfluous health care spending (I’m in health care, myself) and then when I look at the plan it’s showing 19 Billion for health technology as the principal money. Several billions or half a million here or still doesn’t come anywhere close to 19 Billion for health technology.
    In fact every section is riddled with research money for hard science technology that should be providing jobs for men.
    And as far as construction, like education, there are also claims about spending being done than wasn’t truly necessary…and I can’t help think that most of the construction jobs were lost in the housing bust. States need money to fix roads and bridges, but do they actually need new hires above and beyond bringing back some folks that were laid-off?
    And some of the nursing programs are targeting men. NPR ran a story about factory workers doing just that. Of course I can’t say how many men are taking advantage of this but the money and training is there in some markets.

  • spike the cat

    And I just wanted to ad, that it’s not that I don’t think that some groups are suffering disproportionately in this recession. I’m listening to all stories on the matter.
    The issue is that you are making some very specific claims about NOW and feministing community about the subject.
    And it may very well be that the money was not allocated in the best way—hell, a new government report says that many banks DID NOT need all of that money. But so far I’m not understanding the basis for your claims and judgement.
    For example if people aren’t buying homes, just what are workers supposed to construct? And before you answer, plenty of money was earmarked for infrastructure and construction of clean energy structures. What’s left?
    If people don’t have purchasing power what are manufacturers supposed to manufacture?

  • spike the cat

    Yikes, sorry for the typos! And in the second comment it was supposed to be,
    “Several extra billions and an extra half a billion here or there still doesn’t come anywhere close to 19 Billion for health technology under the umbrella of health care spending”

  • Annmalinga

    The article also says that part of the reason women are keeping/getting jobs that men aren’t is because women will accept less pay. Yay wage gap.
    Resveratrol

  • PeterZeroOne

    “But higher education is a path to career advancement and if men are NOT pursuing that option, there are certainly negative career consequences.”
    Let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose you had a grade school and high school education system staffed mostly by men, run and administered by men, and where the curriculum and teaching style was geared towards men. Suppose also you had a much lower number of women then men going into universities. Wouldn’t you say that’s evidence of systemic discrimination against women?
    “I have tried to steer my sons towards careers which are not so cyclical. The unintended side affect has been that my oldest (24) is seriously considering a career (a CAREER!) in the military. ”
    A military career isn’t that ridiculous for a young man who wants a non-cyclical job. Consider for a moment if a young man told you he wanted to be a kindergarden teacher or a pediatric nurse. You and everyone else would think the same thing; hence, the young man goes to the military.
    “He has not shown interest in the hard sciences and now has a degree in history. His job search for something better than his minimum wage retail job has proven absolutely fruitless and I understand his frustration. He feels that he has to work at something better. He is also finding it very hard to find a girlfriend – something he blames on his inability to make more money. ”
    In the past (and today), a man would accept a partner of a similar class who had comparable levels of education, but made less money. In other words, a young male lawyer could have an underemployed female history grad as a girlfriend. For whatever reason, young professional women show no willingness to reverse this gender role. Maybe it’s the patriarchal paradigm that keep them from accepting a boyfriend/husband who makes less than they do? I don’t know.
    I know this is skirting victim-blaming a bit, but women have to start to accept men as junior partners in a relationship, and as competent homemakers. Yes, I know, the “second shift” and so forth, but society won’t change until some women show some faith that men can also transcend their assigned gender roles.

  • TD

    Ideally you accept that building homes will not be a major concern for the next year or even two. Instead the government decides to build all of the things it needs built. This picks up the slack which ordinarily would have been filled by peoples purchasing power. The reason not to stimulate this through other people directly is because of the marginal propensity to consume. Ordinarily if someone receives another dollar in income they spend a portion of it and save the remainder. If the government spends the money they ensure that the amount of money earmarked is spent in its entirety before it is affected by the mpc.
    For healthcare in general, healthcare wasn’t impacted. People are still getting sick, and their still going to the doctor. Further the major shortages are driven by the increasing greying of our society and the elderly have health care. Any money spent on health care then, is a waste. The real purpose of government spending is to invest in areas which were hit by the recession because these areas have an excess of capacity. That excess of capacity means that the governments money goes towards constructing things which would not have been constructed otherwise. When the government invests in health care it does not have an excess of capacity, which means you have a larger pool of money chasing after the same resources. In effect all the government will do is raise prices and only further hurt the unemployed.
    By contrast if the government invests in building a new power plant it can employ large numbers of people quickly, then they in turn employ large numbers of more people (similarly R&D does not need to be invested in) because there are large numbers of unemployed construction workers the costs do not increase substantially until there is a recovery.
    That difference between investing in a healthy industry and receiving inflation and investing in a tanked industry and receiving decreased unemployment is a key distinction. But like I said input/output modeling* construction has a massive multiplier in contrast to many others. Since the government is investing for the multiplier effect alone one of the major places for emphasis should be construction, not education, R&D or healthcare, which all have low multipliers or are included substantially in the multipliers of other fields.
    *Basically a model of the economy which can look at an investment of a million dollars and give a ballpark estimate for jobs created and in what fields they’ll be created.

  • Craig R

    Define “Younger worker”
    I am not referring to recent graduates, but of people who have been in the labor force for a few years (say 5 – 8 years).
    As a worker Of A Certain Age, I’ve seen the hiring going on. And those who have not been hired.
    Age discrimination in hiring is deuced hard to prove, especially in the current economy where there are 30 people waiting in line for the same job.
    This is one of the reasons that, when I was job-hunting, I would be sure to shave my beard and mustache, because whereas the HR flack may be willing to view gray hair as a “sign of maturity,” a white beard says “old guy.”