The jobs report coming out this Friday will most likely show that the female percentage of employment in March was greater than ever, after increasing 16 consecutive months. It is possible that, for the first time in American history, women will make up a majority of the labor force late this summer.
The chart below compares overall employment (in millions of jobs) to the female percentage of that employment, with each month shown as its own data point. When the recession began in December 2007, there were 138.2 million nonfarm payroll jobs, of which 48.7 percent were held by women. Last month’s employment report showed that February employment was down to 133.7 million, of which 49.6 percent were held by women.
Casey B. Mulligan; Bureau of Labor Statistics
Since October 2008, three-quarters of the total employment decline (both sexes combined) have been employment declines for men. If that pattern continues, and employment continues to decline, the female percentage of the work force will continue climbing.
Based on this pattern, and the Labor Department’s last report that March employment was down to 133.0 million, my guess is that women made up 49.7 percent of March employment. At this rate, total employment would have to fall below 131 million for women to be a majority of the work force.
The Labor Department’s data show that the largest monthly employment declines so far were from November to December 2008, and December 2008 to January 2009 (681,000 and 741,000 jobs lost on net, respectively). But that rate of job losses has not continued in 2009, and economists expect job losses to slow (and perhaps stop) later this year.
The Obama administration forecasts that (thanks to its stimulus package), the labor market will be recovering in the third quarter of this year. If so, total employment may never get as low as 131 million, and the female percentage may not reach a full 50 percent for several years.
Other forecasters believe that employment will continue to decline, although at lesser rates, throughout 2009. In this scenario, August 2009 may be the month when employment falls below 131 million and female employment exceeds male employment for the first time.
If the female percentage does exceed 50 percent in this recession, it is likely to dip back below the halfway point again during the recovery, as some of the male-intensive industries (such as construction) that contracted so much during this recession start to expand again. In any case, this recession will have a lasting effect on the composition of employment.