Men were disproportionately hurt in the job market during the Great Recession, losing 5.2 million jobs from December 2007 to June 2009, compared to 2.1 million for female workers during the same time period. But as the country climbs its way painfully into a recovery, it is men who are disproportionately getting the new jobs. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, males have picked up 768,000 jobs in the recovery, and women just 218,000.
The researchers don't know why, pointing out that even the differences in employment in certain sectors doesn't explain the disparity. Women, for example, are more heavily employed in government, a sector that has lost jobs. But men have done far better in areas where women previously dominated or competed, such as healthcare, education, and various professional jobs. [Read about how unemployment is hitting some racial and ethnic groups harder than others.]
There has been some speculation as to the disparity, and much of it has been based on the presumption that it is the condition of the female workers. An MSNBC guest, for example suggested that perhaps women are less "flexible" in the kinds of work they were willing to accept. But there was virtually no discussion of what could truly be happening – that when jobs are scarce, men are given first priority.
This, too, would be difficult to prove, but that is paradoxically also the reason it is so difficult for women to counter such bias in hiring. In the late 1970s, many women wore buttons that simply said "59 cents"--that was the amount on the dollar that women earned, compared to men. Since then, we have a more seasoned Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, a female populace accustomed to holding jobs outside the home, and presumably a more equitably-minded public. The result, after more than three decades? Women now earn 79 cents on the dollar, compared to men. [Read about how the recession has changed the U.S. job market.]
Logic would dictate that companies would be more inclined to hire women, since statistically, they pay females less. But that doesn't work to women's behalf, either. Plaintiffs in a class action case against Walmart noted that not only were women paid much less than men, but that despite the fact that women comprised 70 percent of Walmart's workforce, they made up less than a third of its management team.
It's no accident that women have made gains in the workforce when they were desperately needed (such as in factories during World War II) or when the job market was strong enough to accommodate women without denying jobs to men. Despite high unemployment for both men and women, men are still overwhelmingly in positions of authority in corporate America. So why aren't they hiring women?