The Oklahoman recently ran an editorial calling attention to the especially heavy toll that the current recession is having on male workers nationally and here in Oklahoma. A new issue brief from Economic Policy Institute, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Current Population Survey, provides some startling state-level data that bears out this point.
In the 4th quarter of 2007, which marked the onset of the national recession, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate was 3.4 percent for men and 4.2 percent for women. In the just-completed 2nd quarter of 2009, while the female unemployment rate had inched up a mere 0.2 percentage points to 4.6 percent, the male unemployment rate had soared 4.2 percentage points to 7.6 percent. Thus, over a span of eighteen months, the job market switched from one where women were somewhat likelier than men to be unemployed to one where the male unemployment rate is a full three percentage points higher than that of women.
Oklahoma’s gender profile mirrors the national picture but in somewhat more extreme form. Nationally, unemployment rates for females at the start of the recession were 0.2 percentage points higher than for males (4.9 percent compared to 4.7 percent), a smaller gender gap than in Oklahoma. Today, the male unemployment rate for men nationally is 3 percentage points higher for men than for women (10.7 percent compared to 7.7 percent), the same size gap as in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoman’s explanation for what has happened is persuasive and is echoed by others who have reported on the subject :
The recession is hitting hardest on sectors over which men have traditionally dominated — construction, heavy manufacturing, mining, etc. — and hitting the lightest on sectors where women have traditionally ruled — education, health care, government service.
Looking ahead, the gender gap is expected to worsen as unemployment levels remain high over the next year. EPI’s report includes projections for the 2nd quarter of 2010, when economic forecasters expect unemployment to peak. They predict Oklahoma’s unemployment rate will rise to 7.3 percent for all workers; for men, unemployment is projected to be 9.0 percent (a 1.2 percentage point increase from 2009), compared to 5.3 percent for women (a 0.7 percentage point increase from 2009).
EPI’s report also shows that ethnic minorities – African Americans and Hispanics – are being hurt worse than Whites during the downturn and that these disparities will also worsen over the next year. Due to inadequate sample sizes, EPI was unable to provide estimates of unemployment rates by ethnicity for Oklahoma.
The loss of male jobs during this downturn is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the economy, communities, and families that will take a long time to fully understand and address. Will we see more men move into traditionally female occupations in the education and health care sectors? Will we see shifts in family formation and child-rearing roles if more women become the primary breadwinners? Let’s hope that policymakers start soon to think about these questions and begin to think about crafting solutions to ensure that the economy that emerges out of this downturn is one that provides opportunities for all.