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Women leading the way on job recovery post-recession

Women's employment returns to pre-recession levels

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When Nola Grant graduated from college in December 2007, at the very start of the recession, she entered a job market full of uncertainty and turmoil.

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Nola Grant, a human resources worker at the cable company WOW!, had to take temp jobs when she graduated from USC Aiken in 2007.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Nola Grant, a human resources worker at the cable company WOW!, had to take temp jobs when she graduated from USC Aiken in 2007.

After Grant earned her sociology degree from the University of South Carolina Aiken, where she also served as captain of the women’s basketball team, she had two choices: Go overseas to play basketball or take a local temporary job. She chose the latter.

“I was finding employment, but it was a little bit of a struggle because here you are a college grad, and you’re only getting temp positions,” Grant said. “For about a year or two years, I did go through that. I understand what it’s like to look for a job when you have a specific skill set. You want to land somewhere you’re going to like what you do.”

Fast forward nearly six years, and the job situation has turned around for Grant, who is now doing human resources for a local cable company, and other women nationwide, according to a November analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

In its review of October employment data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the institute found that the number of women working reached its highest point in October, when there were 67.4 million jobs held by female workers. That’s an increase of 102,000 over their previous employment peak of March 2008.

Additionally, the unemployment rate for single mothers has reached its lowest level at 8.8 percent since October 2008.

Angela Black, a single mother to her adult son and two adult foster children, changed careers this summer from cleaning homes to doing secretarial work at Country Way, a construction company.

As the sole provider for her family, Black said, she believes that more women are realizing they have to depend on themselves.

“It used to be in the old days you depended on a man to take care of you,” she said. “That just doesn’t hold true anymore, so you do what you have to do to survive and to take care of your children and your family.”

ALTHOUGH WOMEN now have regained all their jobs lost in the recession, men are lagging behind and have picked up only 73 percent, or 4.4 million of the jobs they lost in that same period, the institute found.

The new figures represent a shift from early in the recovery. In June 2010, a year after the recession officially ended, women were still losing jobs and men surpassed their female counterparts in job recovery from 2010-12.

Moreover, the employment gap between men and women has dropped to 1.6 million jobs, half of what it was at the recession’s start.

“October’s employment gains are worth celebrating, but job growth for both men and women is not at the level we should expect four years into the economic recovery,” said the institute’s president, Heidi Hartmann.

According to the study, if the number of jobs had grown as fast as the working-age population since the start of the recession, there would be 3.8 million more jobs held by women and 5.5 million occupied by men.

The latest employment data, though encouraging for women, show that neither women nor men have reached their pre-recession labor force participation, which spiked for women at the turn of the millennium.

Rebecca Cooper found herself unemployed a couple of times during the recession. She graduated with a business degree from a Conway, S.C., technical college in 2009 and moved back to Augusta. She was unemployed from May until September.

After another jobless stint in 2010, she took a job as a customer service representative for Augusta Regional Airport’s private aviation department. In 2012, Cooper joined Sizemore Inc., an Augusta-based company that provides security, janitorial and staffing services.

She was promoted to Aiken branch manager in August.

Cooper said it’s necessary that she work because she has a 9-month-old daughter at home. She and her husband, a plumber, rely on two incomes coming into the household, she said.

“There is no way that my husband and I could pay the bills if I wasn’t working,” Cooper said. “There’s absolutely no way.”

A PIVOTAL REASON that women’s jobs have rebounded ahead of men’s is simple:

The recession hit male-dominated industries the hardest, said Jeff Humphreys, the director of the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth.

Many economists, including Humphreys, have coined the term “mancession” when referring to the recession.

“There was less ground to make up,” Humphreys said. “So many men lost their jobs relative to women, and that’s because the epicenter of the Great Recession was property markets, construction and manufacturing in Georgia.”

Those hardest-hit fields also have been the slowest to recover but are starting to bounce back, he said.

“I think going forward, we’re going to see more parity with respect to males and females landing jobs because those traditional male-dominated industries are no longer lagging,” he said. “In fact, you could make the case that they are sort of leading the way now in terms of new job creation going forward.”

FOR BOTH GENDERS, the job market in the public sector looks bleak as government positions continue to shrink.

That was the driving force behind Grant’s taking her current job in September as human resource generalist for WOW!’s Augusta and Charleston, S.C., division.

Grant previously worked as a human resources representative at Savannah River Remediation, the liquid-waste contractor at Savannah River Site, for more than three years but said the precarious job situation there became too much to handle.

“The morale kind of dropped with everyone,” she said. “Your job is always up in the air. You never know because of budget constraints or the government furloughs. Although I didn’t get impacted by any of it, every year it’s the same thing.”

Grant, who is putting herself through graduate school, said she needs stable work that fits her skill set.

According to the Women’s Policy Research Institute, professional and business services rank in between leisure and hospitality and education and health services as the top job-gaining industries for women in the post-recession era.


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