For the first time since the early 1980′s the unemployment rate in this country bumped above 10% as 10.2% of Americans were actively looking for work. The coming days will no doubt bring a lot of hand-wringing and punditry about what this number means in the face of hopes that the American economy was on the rebound. In the midsts of all that analysis though, I suspect we’ll miss a crucial piece of the economic puzzle. That is because the real story in the October jobless numbers isn’t the number of Americans out of work. The real story remains the income disparity between those men and women who still have their jobs.
Women now comprise over 50% of the US labor market yet consistently earn .78 cents on the dollar for the same work as their male peers. As detailed in The Shriver Report and covered earlier here, for the first time in American history women are now more likely than men to be the primary income earners in their families. The steady purge of jobs in this Great Recession has left more men than women unemployed. The effect is to not only reinforce that women are the workhorses of the American labor pool, but to illustrate that the American employment landscape has shifted, and it has shifted radically and permanently.
What does any of this have to do with the October unemployment figures? Everything. Women are not leaving the job market in the face of any purported recovery, so their presence in our employment landscape is permanent. Further, there’s growing evidence that the recovery that may be underway will be, for all intents and purposes, a jobless recovery. So not only will this country have lost, permanently, hundreds of thousands of jobs, more men than women will remain unemployed once the recovery actually takes hold. And by failing to address disparities in incomes any recovery will very likely permanently depress the incomes of working families.
There is no doubt that this country needs to figure out how to create lasting and sustainable job growth and fast. But any job growth that fails to address earning inequality will only go to reinforce, rather than relieve, the burdens facing working families.
Even as economists reach for any silver lining they can in this report–the increase in temporary workers, signals that employers are adding hours to those who have been able to retain their jobs–the larger issue of a steady decrease in our standard of living remains. This decrease will not change without making sure that women and men are paid equal wages for equal work. The only way to ensure this happens and to hold employers accountable is to pass the Equal Pay Act. Our lawmakers don’t seem to be able to connect these dots, so let’s try and make it clearer for them. Click here to sign the petition urging passing of the Equal Pay Act because a failure to address income disparity once and for all is a failure to secure the future prosperity of this country.
photo courtesy of Libelu via Flickr
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