The Housing Chronicles Blog: Recession expected to permanently impact jobs of blue-collar males

Monday, May 18, 2009

Recession expected to permanently impact jobs of blue-collar males

In the recession of 2001, the number of men who lost their jobs was about even with job losses by women. But this time, on top of a much larger magnitude of job losses for men versus both that recession and the one of 1990-91 -- 4.5 million and counting -- men are carrying 80% of the unemployment burden. For blue-collar men working in manufacturing as well as semi-skilled and unskilled positions, those jobs may never return. What does that mean for the future American work force? From a Reuters story:

One statistic that stands out in America's recession-stung economy is the unemployment rate for adult men: in April for the second month in a row it surged ahead of the national average to 9.4 percent versus 8.9 percent for all workers. The jobless rate for adult women was 7.1 percent.

The reasons are clear: male-heavy sectors such as construction and manufacturing have been hard hit. But the implications may be dire for the broader economy and hamper the recovery as families that once had male breadwinners struggle.

"In the 2001 recession, 51 percent of all job losses were for men. It was evenly split. But in this recession 80 percent of the jobs that have been lost have been men's," said Andrew Sum, a labor economics professor at Northeastern University who has studied this issue in detail.

Men also incurred about 80 percent of the job losses in the 1990-91 recession, but Sum said by his calculations the numbers this time were dramatically different. In the 1990-91 recession, men lost 1.037 million jobs. They have lost 4.5 million to date in this one...

The fact that American males without a college degree are especially vulnerable in this cycle point to more hard times ahead for the U.S. working class, which has endured stagnant and declining wages for the last three decades.

The skilled and semi-skilled jobs they traditionally held have been moving overseas to places like China and Vietnam. The jobs that remain pay less, amid declining union membership.

One study by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution think-tank found median U.S. family income rose to $53,280 by the middle of this decade in 2004 dollars from $37,384 in 1964. But for males aged 30 to 39, average annual personal income fell from the mid-1970s by around $5,000 to $35,000.

The growth in family incomes is mostly from women entering the workforce. But during this recession that will hardly compensate given the scale of male job losses...

This is grim news for struggling blue collar families. While women's role in the workforce has expanded, by some estimates the male remains the main breadwinner in about 75 percent of two-income U.S. households...

though construction jobs are seen coming back eventually, spurred in part by President Barack Obama's $787 billion fiscal stimulus plan that includes funds for road and bridge construction.

But many manufacturing jobs are gone for good, as huge sectors like the auto industry suffer profound cuts.

Doeringer said the recession will leave the economy "sharply restructured".

"The construction jobs will return, but we are seeing an unusually sharp drop in what is left of manufacturing and much of that drop will not be recovered when the recession ends, and much of what does remain will have be at lower wages with reduced fringe benefits," he said.

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