The Mancession Has Been Hardest On Women

The "Mancession" has been, in many ways, an appropriate moniker for the last few years. With construction and manufacturing -- two male dominated industries -- particularly battered in the recession, 6.1 million men found themselves unemployed, over double the number of women. But new findings from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR)/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security show that recession-era suffering has been largely women's work.

A quarter of the women in this country, and 38 percent of single mothers, struggled to pay for food in the year before they did the survey, compared to 14 percent of men. Forty-four percent of women, and 52 percent of single mothers, found it difficult to pay for health insurance, as did 32 percent of men. Sixteen percent of single mothers in this time period have, at some point, gone hungry.

The researchers interviewed 2,746 adults ages 18 years and older in 2010, ending in November, about their economic security in the previous year. They then extrapolated the findings from these half-hour interviews to create a grave portrait of the American public in the year after the recession had officially ended. The report is fittingly named: "Women and Men Living on the Edge."

But women, and particularly single mothers, are teetering on that edge more than men, and black and Hispanic individuals significantly more than whites. In November 2010, the unemployment rate for Americans 16 and over was 8.6 percent for women and 10.4 percent for men. While men began to regain their jobs steadily at the end of 2009, women's unemployment continued to rise, and has remained steady since the end of 2010, so that men and women's unemployment rates now look like they may soon converge. The media has dubbed this the "He-covery."

An average of 40 percent more women struggle to pay for basics than men. 84 percent of women and 71 percent of men found it difficult to pay a bill on time. Paying rent was at some point a problem for 75 percent of women and 49 percent of men.

Women have also made more sacrifices than men. Seventy-two percent of women and 80 percent of mothers had cut back on living expenses in the previous year, compared to 57 percent of men. And since the onset of the recession, 17 percent of women have joined up with another household, or "doubled up," to save on housing costs, as have 11 percent of men.

While more men than women have been laid off in the last few years, the report shows that single mothers and young women have endured the worst. Forty-two percent of single mothers had been unemployed for at least a month in the year before their interview. In the previous two years, half of young American women (between the ages of 18 and 34) had been unemployed for one month or longer, compared to under a quarter of similarly aged men.

And when unemployment strikes, men are more prepared to cope with it. Sixty-one percent of men reported having enough savings to cover two months of earnings if they lost their jobs. Only 42 percent of women could say the same. Three in five women and half of men are having trouble saving for their retirement. Seventy percent of women and 67 percent of men are straining to save for their children's education.

The report confirms previous findings that women, as more economically vulnerable as a class than men, have suffered more in the recession, despite a lower unemployment rate. An August study by Careerbuilder found that almost a quarter of female respondents missed a bill payment in the previous year, compared to 17 percent of men. And 46 percent of women said that they were living "paycheck to paycheck," a state of economic insecurity experienced by 38 percent of men -- a still-high, but significantly smaller, number.

Part of this gender difference is due to the persistent wage gap. Women still earn 19 percent less than a man for the same job, according to a 2010 report by the Center for American Progress. An unmarried women earns just 56 cents to the married man's dollar. Women are also overrepresented in lower-paying jobs, like cleaning, waitressing and retail. In the 10 lowest-paid occupations, almost two-thirds of workers are women, according to a IWPR report published in April. In the highest paid 10 occupations, close to two-thirds of the workers are men.

The combined effect of these phenomena is profound. In 2009, the median income of full-time year-round male workers was $47,127. For women, it was $36,278, and for single mothers, $25,172. Given that single mothers are usually bearing most of the financial burden of child care, it is easy to understand the whopping levels of economic insecurity within this group.

Despite the diversity of experiences by gender, race and ethnicity, all of the study's respondents did agree on one thing: Equal opportunities, whether finding good jobs, getting ahead financially, paying for college, affording health care, and finding decent housing, have gotten worse in the last few years.

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