A Dubious Equality for Women
By Ellen Goodman
I suppose this falls under the general heading “Be Careful What You Wish For.”
There are a whole lot of folks who once looked forward to the day when women would become equal participants in the work force with men.
They tracked the gradual increase of women. They debated why progress stalled over the past decade. They talked about work-family conflicts and the appeal of “opting out.”
What they didn’t predict was that women might finally reach the goal of equality less because they scaled the heights than because men slipped downward. But here we are.
In the winter of our economic discontent, women now hold more than 49 percent of jobs on the nation’s payrolls. If we cross the 50 percent line—hold the applause—it will be because men are losing their jobs even faster than women.
This dubious equality is in large part an ongoing tale of two economies. Men tend to work in manufacturing and construction, areas that were the hardest and first hit. Women tend to work in jobs such as health care and education that haven’t (yet) been as affected.
In the past year, eight out of 10 pink slips went to men. The unemployment rate for women is bad enough at 6.2 percent, up 2 percentage points since 2007. But the unemployment rate for men is 7.6 percent, up three points. Add to that the fact that more men stop looking for jobs. You not only have a near-equal number of women in the work force, you have a lot of women in formerly two-earner families who’ve become the breadwinners.
Breadwinners? Or should I say crustwinners. The other dubious part of this “equality” for families is that even if women fill half of the payroll jobs, they don’t bring home half the paychecks. They still earn only 78 cents for every male dollar. In two-worker households, husbands earn close to two-thirds of the income and usually hold the job with health insurance.
So women’s work has been more stable but less profitable. And don’t forget that the recession is still on. Women may yet catch up (or catch down) with men’s job losses. They are especially vulnerable to cutbacks in state and local government, where they work in...