Women still looking as new jobs go mostly to men

WASHINGTON — Even as women have moved up the economic ladder and outpaced men in earnings growth in the past decade, they are lagging behind in a crucial area: getting new jobs.

Since the recession ended in June 2009, men have landed 80 percent of the 2.6 million net jobs created, including 61 percent in the past year.

One reason: Male-dominated manufacturing, which experienced sharp layoffs during the recession, has rebounded in recent years, while government, where women hold the majority of jobs, has continued to be hit hard.

But there’s something else at work. Men are grabbing a bigger share of jobs in areas, such as retail sales that typically have been the province of women, federal data show.

That’s not necessarily good news for women or men. The work that mainly has gone to women often pays less and offers skimpier benefits and less chance for advancement than jobs men previously held.

Paul Cordova and Betty Mowery, a married San Francisco couple in their 40s, found that out fast. Three days after Cordova lost his job managing facilities at a San Francisco law firm in April 2009, Mowery was laid off as a customer service representative at an air freight company.

Cordova got a new job working as a clerk in a grocery store, but, at $9 an hour, it paid much less than his previous job. Mowery couldn’t find any job and stopped looking. She went back to college to retrain for a career in mental health.

“It’s a huge step down,” Mowery said of their family income, close to $100,000 before the start of the recession at the end of 2007.

The retail trade demonstrates how much things have changed in recent years. Three years ago, women made up a majority of the payrolls in the retail trade, just as they have in most of the last three decades for which data are available. But since the sector hit bottom in December 2009, men have landed more than 440,000 retail jobs and women have lost 49,500 posts.

Men now account for 51 percent of the 14.75 million retail jobs in the U.S.. Similarly, the male share of payrolls has inched higher in financial services such as banking and real estate, health care, education, leisure and hospitality businesses, but women still outnumber men in each sector.

“During this recovery, men have looked for alternative careers and jobs in other sectors,” said Adriana Kugler, the Labor Department’s chief economist.

In recent months, women have picked up a bigger share of the new jobs than they had before, but it’s uncertain if that trend will continue. And they have a long way to go to cut down the gender disparity in finding new jobs, a gap that has drawn notice in a presidential election year.

This spring, GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign blamed the hardships for women on President Barack Obama’s policies, although analysts pointed out Romney’s claims ignored the fact that men took their lumps earlier in the recession. Unemployment peaked in late 2009 for men and a full year later for women.

The gender gap has raised concerns about possible discrimination in hiring. If the trend persists, it could set back gains made by women in the workplace, experts said.

“It’s hard to know (whether) some employers place a priority on men going back to work,” said Joan Entmacher of the National Women’s Law Center. Of particular concern, she said: Opportunities for women in higher-paying fields such as manufacturing are shrinking.

Since December 2009, manufacturing has added nearly 500,000 net new jobs, but the head count for women at factories has stagnated.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said men may have an edge because they tend to have a longer work history. But he suspects some employers will “take a male applicant more seriously even (when a man and woman are) equally qualified.”

Gender discrimination in hiring is hard to prove. In fiscal 2011, more men than women filed complaints of unfair hiring based on gender with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It’s the first time that has happened in at least a decade, possibly reflecting the increased entry by men into women-dominated workplaces.

Some employers said they are seeing more male applicants for jobs in industries such as retail. For many men, alternative careers aren’t so much a choice as an act of desperation. Whether women can land more new jobs depends to a large extent on the strength of the public sector.

Not only are women more likely to hold public sector jobs, but they also are more likely to work in fields, such as teaching and clerical work, that have been disproportionately cut in the past three years, said Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It may be that among the hundreds of thousands of female teachers and other women who lost their jobs, some may be giving up the idea of working, at least for now.”