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NATIONAL | summer 2003


What Do 3.8 Million Women Have in Common?
Unemployment

Jobless gap between the genders is closing

Ms. Summer 2003

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Ms. Magazine Digest
Weekly News Digest

A single mother with a 13-year- old daughter, Jo-Anne Hurlston, 47, lost her job as dean of career and student
services at a Washington, D.C., high school last June. For the first time in her adult life, she was unemployed.

More than 3.8 million women— 5.6 percent— are currently unemployed in the United States. Although the women’s unemployment rate is less than men’s rate of 6.3 percent, this gap is narrowing.

"Women's unemployment is becoming much more sensitive to business cycles,” said Vicky Lovell, PhD, of the Institute for Women and Policy Research. Women are starting to catch up with men in unemployment figures partly because of recent job losses in industries with high female employment such as the service sector.

The new Depression: not just for men.
AP photo

Hurlston has an extensive background in hotel serivices, human resources and education, yet after 200 applications and only three interviews, she remains jobless.

With her education and skills, are Hurlston's difficulties finding work unique? Not according to the Economic Policy Institute's Jared Bernstein, Ph.D., who, in a study published at the end of 2002, found that the current economic downturn has had a particularly negative impact on women and those with at least some college education.

Comparing employment rates between the recfession in the early 1990s and today, Bernstein found that the larger drop in employment rates in the current recession "has been driven almost exclusively by women."

In the last recession, according to Bernstein's study, the employment rate for women with some college decreased slightly (by .5 percent) while the rate for college graduates actually increased a small amount (by .3 percent). But, at the end of last year, employment rates for both groups of women had fallen by 2 percent.

The unemployment rate for "women who maintain families" has also been especually high: In April, 8.5 percent were unemployed, a rate that was 6.3 percent in April 2001.

The jobless rate of low-income single mothers is even higher. A new Economic Policy Institute report found the average last year at 12.3 percent. But rather than repair the safety net during a time of high unemployment, the U.S. House of Representitves voted to increase the work requirement for those in need of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to 40 hours per week.

New TANF work mandates are "difficult and problematic when there are no jobs out there" said Lisalyn R. Jacobs, J.D., vice president for government relations, NOW LDEF. "They are especually difficult when there is virtually no additional support for child care."

The gap between male and female unemployment rates may be narrowing, but the gender gap in unemployment insurance is not. Not only does the wage gap mean lower unemployment benefit levels for women but also women are far less likely than men to receive unemployment insurance in the first place.

In 2001, 46.9 percent of unemployed men nationwide received unemployment insurance compared with 40 percent of unemployed women. A new study by the National Employment Law Project found that in 41 states, women were less likely to receive unemployment insurance benefits than men. The gender gap was as high as 24.8 percent in North Dakota.

While Jo-Anne Hurlston was able to obtain unemployment insurance, her benefits ran out in April. Hurlston is frustrated and worried about the future. "I have an issue with the fact that the unemployment rate is so high and I don't see our government doing anything about it. Who cares what is happening to us?" she asked.