Minehan and Ferrell-Jones discuss how women and children are facing economic downturn much differently than men.
By Cathy Minehan and Sylvia Ferrell-Jones
In May, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts fell to 6 percent — well below the national rate of 8.2 percent. While the state and nation continue to recover slowly from the economic downturn, it is important to examine the ways women are experiencing this recovery differently than men.
At the start of the recession, male workers were affected more than female workers. The effects were so stark that media often referred to this time as the "mancession." However, since the recovery began, men have been gaining jobs at a higher rate than women both in Massachusetts and nationwide. Several factors are at play. In an effort to balance budgets, many public sector and education jobs, which are disproportionately held by women, have been cut. In addition, a large percentage of the 2009 American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds were used to jump-start infrastructure and construction projects, industries dominated by men.
While they may not be recovering from the recession as quickly, women are more often heads of single parent households and their wages are critical to the well-being of children in our society. The lower wages women earn, and the disproportionate effects of the recession on the financial stability of women and their families, are troubling. Much has been said of the increased use of food stamps, or SNAP, benefits during the recession. Currently 42 percent of single mothers use SNAP in comparison to 23 percent of single fathers.
These factors, and others, suggest that the current economy is harder on women and their children than at any time in post-war history. That's why the support provided by social organizations, such as the YWBoston, which has forged partnerships with the business and health care communities, is increasingly vital as we try to cope with the uncertainty of the current environment.
There are no clear signs that the end of this period of financial pressure on women and families is near. Global growth is slowing; Europe is in recession, and the U.S. faces the potential for dramatic fiscal tightening — and economic slowing — at the end of 2012. The short-run issues include: what is to be done regarding the end of Bush-era tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits, and payroll tax cuts? During the longer term, how will Medicare and other entitlements be balanced against possible tax reform and constraints on government spending and budget deficits? The answers to these questions and the time line by which resulting policies are implemented will make all the difference in whether women and families regain lost economic ground, stay stagnant, or fall further behind.
Cathy Minehan is the dean of the Simmons School of Management and the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
Sylvia Ferrell-Jones is the president and CEO of YWCA Boston.
Photo: Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, President and CEO of YWCA Boston (left), Cathy Minehan, Simmons School of Management Dean
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