Rough Unemployment Road for Men Could Be Ending
Life + Money

Rough Unemployment Road for Men Could Be Ending

Nearly two years after being laid off from his information technology sales job, Alan Yellowitz of Fairfax, Va. finally landed a job. He's making less than half of the $200,000 to $300,000 a year he once earned, but it's enough to keep the lights on, pay the mortgage and feed his family of four. "After 22 months of unemployment, we feel like we can breathe again," said the 47-year-old Yellowitz. "It's still somewhat rough. We’re still digging out of a hole. But getting a regular paycheck every two weeks feels amazing."

Yellowitz was a casualty of what some call the “mancession", more than two years of rampant unemployment that disproportionately hurt men more than women. Men did so poorly because far more of them worked in industries hit hard by the economic downturn – particularly manufacturing, construction and financial services. Women, by contrast, are disproportionately represented in sectors that are more resistant to economic cycles, such as health care and education

With the recession officially over and the job market slowly improving, long-time unemployed workers like Yellowitz are beginning to find work. While the unemployment rate for men dropped by nearly a full percentage point to 10.6 percent in November from its 11.4 percent high last October, the female unemployment rate is holding steady near its 8.8 percent high of October 2009.  Even though the uptick in employment for men is still relatively small the data suggest that the jobs now opening up are going to men more than to women.

"Men's unemployment rose faster and further than women's, but it has since recovered somewhat. In contrast, women's unemployment, while having peaked lower, hasn't actually come down," Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Department of Labor, said in an interview with The Fiscal Times. "It does seem like the recovery has been more beneficial to men at this point. Some of this has to do with where the cuts [were] the deepest and where we [have] been able to add some jobs back."

One important question yet to be answered is whether males are merely bouncing back from the extreme job losses suffered during the Great Recession, or whether we are seeing the long-predicted turning point in the labor market in favor of women.   Women hold an edge in the job market in part because they hold the majority of advanced degrees, and some experts believe that employers will hire and promote women to higher levels as a result. Thus far, the average woman still earns less than a comparable man, even when adjusted for hours worked and time out of the labor force.

But averages don’t measure apples to apples, i.e., full time professional workers in similar jobs.  Although, female representation at the top ranks of corporate America is stagnant, according to the women's research firm Catalyst Inc., they’ve broken the glass ceiling on CEO pay.  Bloomberg News compiled data on sixteen women executives whose average earnings of $14.2 million in their last fiscal year were 43 percent more than their male counterparts.

Women fared much better than men at the start of the recession, holding more than 60 percent of what had been secure jobs in state and local government. But many lost their advantage—and their jobs--because of layoffs and furloughs.   "The fact that we're seeing a lot of cutbacks at local governments is hurting women more than men," Stevenson said. "Early on in the recession with the housing bust, what we saw was a loss of jobs in construction and manufacturing, traditionally male jobs, and of course financial services."

Between December 2007 and 2009, men lost 1.6 million jobs in construction, 1.5 million in manufacturing, 888,000 in professional services and 615,000 in retail, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since then, BLS has reported job gains for men of 3,000 in construction, 113,000 in manufacturing, 275,000 in professional services and 90,000 in retail services.

Without question, unemployment remains at a crisis level -- certainly for the 15.1 million Americans without jobs. But the current gap between the male and female unemployment rates is narrowing, creating the possibility the disparity will gradually be erased. "In the next couple years, it's going to look like the males are doing very well compared to the females," predicted Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's

More broadly, the male-dominated industries have been in a long-term contraction while female-dominated sectors have grown steadily -- a structural imbalance likely to change only if more men seek employment in traditionally female industries, experts said. Of the scant gains in jobs for men since the recession began in December 2007, BLS identified 304,000 in the education and health care sectors, traditionally dominated by women. "In the very longer term those industries that are female dominated will do better," Zandi said.

Women are well-positioned to fill the jobs that will be created in the years to come, thanks to their higher levels of education and a shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a knowledge-based one, according to a new report from BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research. "While a gender wage gap remains, it is closing," the authors write, citing real median income rising 1 percent for women and contracting 1.5 percent for men, based on annualized rates over the last five years.

At the start of the recession, male and female unemployment rates were similar. But the male unemployment rate skyrocketed from 5.1 percent in December 2007 to a high of 11.4 percent in October 2009. By comparison, the female unemployment rate rose from 4.9 percent to 8.8 percent in that same period, and has remained around that level for the past year.

Experts say that in analyzing unemployment rates, it's important to consider labor force participation. When the job market is at its worst, workers who get discouraged and stop looking for jobs are no longer counted in the labor force, which has the effect of making the unemployment rate look better. For both women and men, labor force participation has dropped over the course of the recession, as economic theory would predict. But since the job market bottomed out in December 2009, men have gained 906,000 jobs, while women added only 45,000 positions.

Carla Martinez, a marketing communications professional in the Chicago area, said she has struggled to find work since being laid off in April 2009. "It's been very hard to even get a call back. A lot of the recruiters won't even pick up your resume unless you're referred," said Martinez, 35.

Another important factor is the type of jobs being created, which are often temporary or low-paying, said Lonnie Golden, an economics professor at Pennsylvania State University-Abington. "It looks like the 'mancovery' has started," Golden said. "Relatively younger men seem to be benefitting from the nascent recovery."

Women who are supporting families still have a tough time finding well-paying jobs, as do older men, according to government data. And there are still 9.2 million people working part-time when they'd prefer to have full-time work, the so-called underemployed. "Keep an eye on people's earnings per hour as an important indicator of standard of living," he advised. "People are going to be working longer, for less money, for some time."

Bill Leonard, a pilot based in Odessa, Fla., lost his flying job in January and finally decided to take a non-aviation position with compensation about half of what he made before. "I have over 5,000 hours of flight time with five different jet ratings. I took for granted that I'd be able to find another job," Leonard said. "After six months had gone by without hearing much of anything, it started getting discouraging."

He still holds out hope of returning to flying, but for now is content to sell a pipe rehabilitation technology to international customers. "I feel very lucky to have a job," Leonard said.