Enough with the #mancession already

via the New York Times Magazine, cover story by Hanna Rosin, “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?

Earlier this year, Bryce Covert at Next New Deal declared the end of the so-called “mancession” — i.e. the gap between male and female unemployment.  First a definition:

“he term itself was coined by AEI scholar Mark Perry. He was the first to give a name to a striking phenomenon during the recession (officially from 2007-2009): not only did employment tank in male-heavy industries, and not only did they therefore have elevated unemployment rates, but the gap between their unemployment rate and women’s was the largest in post-War record-keeping. This was particularly striking because before the recession — in the months from 2004 to 2007 — unemployment rates were about equal for the two sexes, and women’s even rose higher than men’s for some months. This gap between the two rates hit a peak in August of 2009 at 2.7 percent — men at that point had an 11 percent jobless rate, and women had 8.3. (The gap started closing after that point even as male unemployment rose — women just started catching up with them in the unemployment department.) To sum up, as Perry puts it, “the impact of job losses was considerably greater for men, since almost 6 million men lost their jobs, compared to only 2.64 million job losses for women. More than two out of every three jobs lost in 2008 and 2009 were held by men (68.5%), or alternatively it was also the case that 217 men lost their jobs for every 100 women who became unemployed in 2008 and 2009.”

He points out that much of this was related to the industries most affected by the recession. Construction and manufacturing went into freefall. He calculates that the largest job losses during the recession were in manufacturing — down by 14 percent — and construction — down by 20.2 percent. Men make up 71.2 and 87.5 percent of those industries, respectively. On the other hand, some industries where women dominate were doing well. Education and health services was up 4 percent, 74 percent female, and government jobs were up 2.25 percent, 57 percent female.”

In March of this year, an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center showed “men and women are now on par for unemployment rates, both standing at 7.7 percent. Mark it: the gender gap that had Perry, the media, and manhood so worried has completely evaporated.

On top of that, the supposedly recession proof, female-dominated industries are not faring as well. And the male dominated ones are starting to show signs of life. Construction is up 2.1 percent; manufacturing is up 2. Yet government jobs are down 1.2 percent, and that’s across the board — 1.5 percent at the federal level, 1.4 at state level, and 1.1 at the local level. Those government job losses are driving our current womancession. Job losses, which skewed male, have now turned into skewed job gains. Men had lost 6 million jobs to women’s 2.64 million during the recession, but now women have gained just eight percent of the 1.9 million jobs added in the recovery.

This painful economic period, even if it’s showing signs of improvement, is likely far from over. Men and women are both still hurting in huge numbers. But at least one thing has changed: we can stop calling this a mancession.”
Yet, one would never know this from the Times magazine article, which examines the town of Madison, Alabama, where male-dominated manufacturing jobs have all but disappeared, and historically “female” jobs in health, education, and social services have expanded.

The result:  “a nascent middle-class matriarchy,” in which women “pay the mortgage and the cable bills while the men try to find their place.”

I’m about to teach my first session of a course on the New Deal, so I’ve heard this tale of men “emasculated” by hard economic times. At that time, Norman Cousins had the immodest proposal that the way the end the Depression was to fire all the women, “who shouldn’t be working anyway,” and hire men in their place.  Some places of employment actually followed that advice: for example, the majority of public schools refused to hire married women as teachers, and many had a policy of firing women who married.  Yet, at that time, men were even more reluctant and/or unprepared to take on “women’s work” — which was even more poorly compensated than it is today.

One would think that times have changed enough that men in the 21st would be secure enough in their masculinity to seek work in the expanding “female” fields. According one man who was interviewed, one reason they don’t is because these jobs pay far less than they were accustomed to earning.  A more important reason, though, was  “We’re in the South . . .A man needs a strong, macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop queen. He’s got to be a man.”

Since the article only covered white, married, heterosexual couples I’m wondering how representative this is of the South, let alone the rest of the country.  Perhaps Rosin’s forthcoming book will look at a more diverse sample of the American people. Meanwhile, read Covert’s excellent response to Rosin’s other articles.

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