Women and recession: what more do we know?
I thought that I’d provide a bit of an update on what new figures and analysis show us about how women are faring during the recession.
Since our first report we have had two new sets of unemployment figures. It remains true that unemployment rates are increasing for both women and men. From January – March 2008 to October – December 2008 the the male working age unemployment rate increased from 5.6 per cent to 7.1 per cent (1.5 percentage points), while the female rate has risen from 5 per cent to 5.8 per cent (0.8 percentage points). New redundancy data also show continuing increases in redundancy rates for women and for men – but there was a sharper rise in the male rate during the October – December 2008 quarter. The male rate is now 13.6 per cent, against a female rate of 6.6 per cent. From January – March 2008 there was an increase of 7.8 percentage points in the male rate, and an increase of 3.7 per cent in the female rate. These rates are based on self-reports of redundancy. What we don’t know is who qualifies for redundancy pay – it is possible that qualifying criteria (two years service and a permanent job) mean that some groups of workers are more likely to qualify than others – we’ll need to do more analysis to find out.
Our most recent recession report includes an analysis of job losses (up to September 2008 – but more recent data should be available soon) by sector and gender. It shows that the difference in the total number of job losses for men and women was actually fairly similar (particularly interesting when you consider that there are still slightly more men in work than women) with 107,000 job losses for women, and 137,000 losses for men. The greatest job losses for women have been in Distribution, Hotels & Restaurants (36,000); Finance & Business Services (28,000) and Manufacturing (18,000). For men losses have been concentrated in the same sectors, but with the most losses in Finance & Business Services (45,000), followed by Manufacturing (41,000) and Distribution, Hotels & Restaurants (31,000).
But the big difference is that – at least until the end of September 2008 – there have been gains in public sector employment, and women (although not necessarily the same women as those who have lost their jobs) have benefitted. In Public Admin, Education and Health women gained 68,000 jobs, whereas men gained just 3,000. This means that women’s net job losses have been far lower than men’s.
It is also interesting to look at what’s happening in different regions and nations – where there is wide variation in how women are being affected. For example in London, the female unemployment rate for the October – December 2008 quarter was actually higher than the male rate (7.9 per cent as opposed to 6.7 per cent) and it has been rising steadily over recent months. But in Wales the picture is very different with a male rate of 8.4 per cent, and a female rate of 5.3 per cent, which has only shown relatively small increases since the recession started. It will be a several more months before the overall trends in each region become clearer, but it may well be that different local labour markets lead to large variation in how each gender fares – trends which can be invisible if only national rates are considered.
‘Economic inactivity’ levels are also worth looking at. In December 2008 there were 2,065,000 working age women who did not qualify as ILO unemployed (the definition covers those without a job who want a job and have actively sought work in the last four weeks and are available to start in the next two weeks) because they were looking after a home or family. But while there had been a quarterly increase of 15,000 women, until the July to September 2008 quarter the number of ‘inactive’ women caring for a family was in decline. But we may now see a continued rises over future months.
The figures are far greater than for men, with only 191,000 men ‘inactive’ because of family caring responsibilities. And it’s important to remember that not all of these ‘inactive’ people want to be unemployed. Surveys show that many would like a job, but are not actively seeking one as they do not consider that it’s possible, meaning they don’t meet the ILO criteria.
And the figures also fail to capture workers facing reductions in overtime as a result of the downturn. But we do know that for both women and men there have been increases in the proportions of part-time and temporary workers who can’t find full-time work.
So, men continue to be hit harder than women (we never said otherwise – our position has always been that women will be hit harder than in previous recessions but not harder than men), but women at work continue to feel the effects of the downturn – in greater numbers than ever before.