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How Are Women Really Doing on the Job Front?

As Mitt Romney and Barack Obama throw around competing figures, here's what's really happening

By Kerry Hannon

There’s nothing quite like a presidential campaign to get women some attention. Female voters are, after all, the majority of the electorate.


Little wonder then that Democratic strategists see women as the key to victory, and that their Republican counterparts are responding accordingly: Last week the Romney camp announced that women accounted for 92 percent of the job losses since President Barack Obama took office.


Ouch. That statistic got my attention.


Job Losses for Women


On the face of it, that job-loss figure is correct. Women lost 683,000 of the 740,000 nonfarm jobs that have vanished since Obama’s inauguration, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Tampa Bay Times’ fact checking website, PolitiFact, the Washington Post Fact Checker and MSNBC’s First Read met Romney’s statistics with skepticism. But there was no denying the validity of the claim.


That said, there’s another way to look at the job-loss numbers.


Let’s pull back a second. From the time the recession began in December 2007 — a year before George W. Bush left office — until Obama’s administration began, men lost nearly three times as many jobs as women (3.4 million vs. 1.2 million).


Then the other shoe dropped, and (to mix metaphors) the pink slips were smacked into palms of female workers.


As politicians know, by picking a time frame that suits your purposes, you can massage numbers to say pretty much whatever you want.


Men, Women and Recessions


It’s fairly common in recessions for men to lose jobs first and women second, which is exactly what happened this time.


In the first two years of the recession, men were clobbered, losing jobs mostly in fields like construction and manufacturing. But layoffs lagged behind in the public sector, in such areas as teaching and government where women tend to work.


Then women lost those kinds of jobs in droves as state and local governments cut their budgets sharply to combat falling tax receipts.


Which Jobs Will Return?


Will women see those jobs come back? Quite possibly.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics researchers say they expect many of the positions to return. While employment in the federal government is expected to fall between now and 2020, they say, state and local government employment is projected to rise. Education, one of the fields with the largest projected job gains, will account for almost two-thirds of the increase.


“Rising enrollment in primary and secondary schools and the increasing assimilation of those with disabilities into regular instruction will drive employment gains for both teachers and aides,” the Labor Department’s jobs report says.



But other fields dominated by women face a bleaker future. For instance, bank teller positions that were eliminated in the past few years are unlikely to return, since Americans are increasingly banking online and prefer ATMs to transactions at teller windows.


All in all, after reviewing the job-loss numbers, I’ve come to one conclusion: There are no real winners or losers. Both sexes have been slammed.


Unemployment is a painfully high 8.3 percent for men and 8.1 percent for women.


For older Americans, the unemployment figures are slightly better: 6.3 percent for men over 55 and 5.9 percent for women of that age. But more than half of job seekers over 55 of both genders have been looking for work at least a year, on average, and that’s a piercing reality.


My Job-Hunting Tip for Women


If you’re out of work because of a layoff, your best strategy may be to embrace contract or freelance work. MBO Partners' "State of Independence in America," a recent survey of boomers who are independent workers, found that most of the estimated 5 million who’ve gone out on their own enjoy it.


Freelance work has four real benefits (even if it doesn’t usually come with health benefits or an employer-provided retirement plan):

  • It gets you into an employer’s door and may lead to full-time work.
  • You’re apt to get paid decently if you have expertise and can address an employer’s needs quickly.
  • You’ll be able to build your professional network for future jobs, either full-time or freelance.
  • It fills holes in your resume.

To find freelance or contract work, join LinkedIn and Facebook and create a to-die-for profile. Next Avenue has an article that shows you ways to do it: "How to Use LinkedIn to Promote Your Personal Brand." And another article on our site has advice on why you might want to have a "portfolio" of part-time careers at the same time, which will help you bring in extra income.


In your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, play up your volunteer activities. This will show how well-rounded you are, and many companies have a soft spot for do-gooders. But remember to focus on the professional skills — say, event planning or fundraising — that you apply to your volunteer work.


And consider joining a support group like The Transition Network, which helps women over 50 make contacts and inspires them to try out new avenues.


As for those political suitors looking for your vote, tell them to forget the roses: A job will win your hand.

Photogtaph of Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon is the author of Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home. She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among others. She is the author of more than a dozen books including Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life, Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women and What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon. Read More
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