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Women trail in US employment gains as governments cut jobs

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After eight years as a guidance counselor at Scotts Valley High School and more than 14 years with the district in Santa Cruz County, Calif., Kimberly Frey says she lost her job in June as part of budget cuts.

Since then, she has forgone health insurance and sold her car to save money while looking for similar guidance work, with no options in sight. “It’s really dried up for school counselors here,” she said. “It’s very discouraging.”

Frey’s situation reflects a trend in which women in the United States have been losing the government jobs they dominate even as the private sector has added positions. Women have lost 454,000 federal, state and local government jobs compared with 267,000 by men since the 18-month recession ended in June 2009, Bureau of Labor Statistics records indicate.

The gap has widened in the past year even as government job losses have slowed. Government payrolls cut about five times as many women as men in 2012 and the pattern is continuing. In January, women surrendered 8,000 positions compared with 1,000 for men.

State and local governments have done the majority of firing as their revenues plummeted, and are poised for a rebound as the economy picks up. Yet the imbalance could persist if Congress doesn’t avert automatic federal spending reductions slated to begin March 1, said Harry Holzer, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and former chief economist at the Department of Labor.

The reductions, known as sequestration, will trim growth by 0.5 percentage point this year and wipe out 350,000 jobs if they take effect on schedule and remain in place through December, according to the median forecast of 26 economists surveyed by Bloomberg last week.

Federal workers

“The direct effect will be the layoff of federal workers, and that should hit women harder,” Holzer said. How it affects the genders depends on how agencies implement the changes. Public cutbacks seem to have disproportionately hit office and clerical jobs more likely to be filled by women, he said. “I fear that we could see that on the federal side.”

The public-sector cuts didn’t occur after past recessions and have slowed women’s recovery this time, said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington.

That has exacerbated a typical post-recession pattern in which women’s unemployment peaks later and recovers more slowly than men’s. “If women continue to suffer job losses in the public sector, women could have a higher unemployment rate than men,” she said.

Female unemployment

The female unemployment rate for those 20 and older has stagnated post-recession -- dropping 1.1 percentage points from its November 2010 high of 8.4 percent -- as one government job was erased for every four private positions women gained.

The unemployment rate for men over 20 has improved faster than women’s, falling by 3.1 percentage points from its 10.4 percent peak in October 2009. In December, women’s unemployment rate surpassed men’s for the first time since 2006, and in January the rates were equal.

Teacher Nicole Baradat has repeatedly had close brushes with joblessness. She has received a layoff notice from her Sacramento, California, district every spring since 2009. Each summer, she collects unemployment and waits to hear if she will be rehired.

“In the summers, it’s very emotional,” Baradat said. “It’s hard to keep up that level of work when you feel so unappreciated.”

Baradat is now teaching at the district’s alternative- method Waldorf School and receiving additional training, hoping her unique skills will protect her from firing. “Teachers are trapped,” she said. “If you move to another district, you’re at the bottom, and you’ll just be laid off.”

Public cuts

This recovery and expansiondiverges fromprevious ones because of the public cuts, said Francine Blau, an economics professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Usually, more male-dominated jobs disappear during downturns as construction and manufacturing industries suffer. Women hold more positions in health care, retail and service industries, which are less economy-sensitive.

Businesses and consumers spend on construction and manufactured items as recoveries begin, resulting in more men being hired. Women regain jobs less dramatically as the rest of the economy catches up, having lost fewer jobs in less-cyclical industries, Blau said.

In the private sector, the pattern held. As of January, men have regained almost 3.2 million of the about 5.4 million private jobs they lost during the recession.

Private jobs

Women added about 1.8 million private jobs after losing 2.3 million in that same time period, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll data.

Yet continuing public cuts have affected primarily women, who make up about 57 percent of overall government payrolls and are concentrated at state and local levels, which have taken the worst hit.

Governments faced the largest collapse in state revenues on record and slashed spending in the wake of the recession, according to the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group focused on lower-income Americans.

While President Barack Obama’s $831 billion stimulus poured money into the economy to preserve and create government jobs, state and local officials were later forced to balance budgets with diminished tax collections.

Between June 2009 and January 2013, state payrolls dropped about 2.5 percent of their workforce, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

State tightening

Priscilla Igori said she lost her job when it was combined with another position in a department reorganization at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she had worked since 1996. The 56-year-old mother and grandmother was let go in October from her administrative coordinator position.

“It was a little short-notice,” said Igori, who is still on the payroll until the end of March. Though she hopes to stay in the system, office jobs are harder to find than in 1996. “I don’t feel like those job offers are as abundant,” she said. “It will be a challenge.”

States are starting to mend. Revenues will increase by 3.9 percent during the 2012-2013 budget year, based on a December report by the National Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers.

Turnaround imminent

A turnaround also seems imminent for local governments, which had cut payrolls about 4 percent since the recession ended, according to BLS data. Alec Phillips, a Washington-based political analyst and economist for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), said in a client note published Feb. 19 that after property tax revenue climbed in the third quarter of 2012 from a year earlier, localities “appear to be growing strongly.”

By contrast, federal payrolls climbed 2.1 percent between June 2009 and January 2011. They declined 1.4 percent between the first months of 2011 and 2012, and lost another 1.5 percent through January 2013, based on preliminary BLS data.

Future cuts to federal funding could cost women jobs, Entmacher said. Congress’s solution to the debate could also impact state budgets, she said.

The spending reductions would impact defense, discretionary spending and health care. If agencies cut manufacturing and troops, that could impact men’s jobs, Entmacher and Holzer said. If clerical jobs are eliminated, more women will lose.

The White House on Feb. 24 released state-by-state estimates of job losses and education reductions that the $85 billion in cuts could spur. California leads with 1,210 teaching jobs at risk, followed by Texas at 930, Florida at 750 and New York at 590.

For Frey, finding a counseling job has proven near- impossible, she said. When positions open, she and hundreds of others rush to apply, she said.

She has even considered leaving California or going into private consulting. “I have faith,” she said. “I will get a job again in counseling.”

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