While the BLS data show little change in the unemployment rate among women and men overall for the past few months, a closer look shows substantial changes for some groups of women, particularly single mothers. Unemployment for women who head families remained at 13.4 percent in August, which is up significantly from 12.1 percent in June. The 13.4 percent rate is almost twice the pre-recession rate of 6.9 percent in December 2007, and the highest unemployment rate for this particularly vulnerable group in over 25 years.
Other groups that have been hard hit in the last few months are women of color. Unemployment among African-American women jumped from 11.8 percent in June to 12.9 percent in July. Unemployment among Hispanic women dropped from 12.1 percent (this group’s highest rate since 1986) in July to 11.6 percent in August, but is still higher than the 11.0 rate in June.
Some measures that Congress has passed this summer—like extending unemployment benefits and boosting Medicaid and education funding for states and localities—will help stem further job losses and forestall deeper cuts in public services. But Congress can and must do more to address unemployment. When it returns from recess, Congress should quickly take up the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812/S. 3500), which would boost employment and preserve services for women and families by saving and creating a total of 750,000 jobs in local non-profits and local governments. The Senate should join the House in passing an extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, which has allowed states to create nearly 250,000 jobs and provide emergency assistance to families. Congress should prioritize measures that allow struggling parents to provide for their families, such as additional funding for child care assistance and restored funding for child support enforcement.
As the situation will likely remain bleak for vulnerable groups, especially single mothers and women of color, it is imperative that Congress act on these critical pieces of legislation. Policymakers have already waited too long, and as a result, allowed millions of women and families to fall behind.