Last fall, there were a lot of joyous statistics floating around, because the recession seemed to have at least one silver lining: women were almost half the workforce, suggesting that the glass ceiling may be finally cracking open. Lisa Belkin was quick to point out the flaw in this logic, though; she noted that the reason that women are retaining their jobs is because they tend to hold lower-paying jobs, while the men, who are compensated better, lose theirs.
A few months ago, I wrote about some disturbing statistics that, sadly, seemed to prove Belkin right: the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the unemployment rate for single women “who maintain families” at 11.6 percent — 68 percent higher than when the recession began. “Add to that the fact that women, as a whole, earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man brings home,” J. Goodrich on Alternet wrote, “and you find many single women whose situation has gone from difficult to dire.”
Now, yet another report shows that women are being hit harder by the recession. This time, though, instead of single mothers, the demographic is working mothers. The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee reported that mothers, rather than opting out, actually increased their workforce participation during the recession. Ihe report, titled “Understanding the Economy: Working Mothers in the Great Recession,” first showed that the gains that women seemed to be making the job market were turning backwards. Slowing job losses in the final months of 2009 meant that more men were finding employment, while women continued to lose their jobs. This was problematic, because one-third of working mothers were the sole job-holders in their families, so while some husbands and fathers may have been finding employment, the fact that women continued to lose their jobs must have translated into harder times for many families.
Single mothers, as always, were hit hardest – between 2007 and 2009, the unemployment rate of single mothers increased from 8.0 percent to 13.6 percent. And high numbers of mothers were unable to find employment because of the job market, with 3.3 million women working part-time for economic reasons, many of whom indicated that they would like to work full-time if they could find employment. Page Gardner has an insightful post on single mothers, where she writes, “Fact is the number of unmarried women and women-headed households is on the rise — and the children they are raising are doing without basics: food, heath care, and housing.”
The implications of this report are clear: families are relying more and more heavily on mothers to carry a large part of the financial burden, but women are still being underpaid, and may have trouble being hired. They are also more vulnerable to losing their jobs when men start gaining employment again. As always, this isn’t just a “women’s issue,” it’s a family issue. And it also effectively cancels out any productive discussion about the so-called “opt out revolution”; most women clearly can’t afford to opt out. The government now has even more of an obligation to improve conditions for working mothers (childcare, maternity leave, etc), and to make sure that the wage gap is closing. It’s difficult to come up with a more basic or compelling argument: adequate compensation for women will be good for all American families.
Photo from Flickr.