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Women Are Losing Ground In Middle-Class Manufacturing Jobs

By Bryce Covert  

"Women Are Losing Ground In Middle-Class Manufacturing Jobs"

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Woman in factory union

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Since early 2010, the number of men who work in manufacturing has climbed 7 percent, but women have lost ground, with their numbers sliding by 0.3 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Department of Labor data.

Women’s representation in manufacturing jobs peaked at 32 percent in the early 1990s, but since then it has dropped to 27 percent.

WSJ gender divide

The Wall Street Journal posits that a potential reason for men and women’s diverging fortunes is that the areas of manufacturing where women tend to be heavily represented have shrunk more rapidly, such as apparel manufacturing, and those that tend to be more heavily male like cars and metal fabrication have seen the fastest job growth recently. There are also fewer unemployed female job seekers than male ones.

Men’s larger job losses in the sector during the recession don’t explain the current gap. While huge job losses in manufacturing at the start of the crisis contributed to a higher unemployment rate for men, those losses were proportional to gender, with men holding about 70 percent of the jobs before the recession and losing the same percentage of jobs during it. Yet between 2010 and 2011, there wasn’t a single sector in the industry in which women made job gains, and instead they lost ground in a few.

Women have also lost ground in well-paid STEM jobs — science, technology, engineering, and math — a trend that started in the 1990s.

So where are women finding jobs? Mostly in much less lucrative work. Pay and benefits in manufacturing average 17 percent higher than other jobs, according to the Commerce Department. But 60 percent of women’s job gains since the recovery began in 2009 have been in low-wage work. For men, on the other hand, just 20 percent of their job gains have been in these jobs. Women currently make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage earners despite representing less than half the workforce.

These are trends that look set to continue or even worsen over the coming decades. Women dominate nearly two-thirds of the jobs that are projected to grow the fastest between now and 2022, but nearly half of those jobs are low wage, paying less than $14 an hour, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center. Women dominate all of the very low-wage jobs projected for fast growth that pay less than $10.10 an hour.

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