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Women Top Men In Bleak Jobs Numbers

Today’s disappointing jobs report has a bright spot: modest job growth for women. Economist Betsey Stevenson explains why that may have happened, and why it’s way too soon to celebrate.

John Moore / Getty Images

Registered nurse Susan Eager (left) checks a patient’s breathing. The healthcare field saw some of the biggest job gains this month.

The US economy added 69,000 jobs in May, which is meager, but for men, the picture is even worse. They lost 26,000 jobs last month, while women gained 95,000. Looked at another way, the unemployment rate for men over 20 rose from 7.5 to 7.8 percent — for women over 20, it held steady at 7.4.

That’s largely because the jobs lost last month were in the goods-producing sector, which tends to skew male, says Wharton School economist Betsey Stevenson. Construction shed jobs; manufacturing, also male-dominated, made only nominal gains. The real gains came in private-sector service jobs, which tend to go to women. Healthcare and social assistance, Stevenson noted, saw the biggest growth, with companies hiring home health aides and childcare workers.

Women’s job losses in the government sector, which had been high throughout 2011, also slowed. Of 13,000 jobs lost in government, just 3,000 were lost by women.

Still, the news for women in government jobs isn’t good overall. Stevenson argues that stagnating government employment has been “a drag on the recovery.” And because women tend to hold a majority of the jobs in government (especially, for instance, as public school teachers), slow or nonexistent job growth in that area disproportionately hurts them. Women may have lost only 3,000 government jobs last month, but they haven’t gained back the ones they lost in 2011.

Stevenson cautions that all the employment changes this month are pretty small, so it’s not wise to draw too many conclusions yet on what they mean for women. And gender may not be the biggest story of this jobs report, which is the latest sign of a teetering global economy.

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