Women’s January Job Gains Overwhelmingly in Low-Wage Sectors

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data on unemployment and jobs growth for the first month of 2016. Many are lamenting the news of only 151,000 new jobs as a sign of a slowed recovery, compared to the 262,000 jobs added in December. A metric that fewer people are reporting is the fact that 77 percent of job gains this month went to women. It is significant that more than 3 out of 4 new jobs in January went to women, but before we call this good news for women’s economic security, it’s important to look closely at the types of jobs women gained.
Of the 117,000 jobs that women added in January, 84,400 were in the low-wage sectors of retail (60,400) and leisure & hospitality (24,000). That means that nearly three quarters, 72 percent, of women’s job gains were in low-wage sectors. Although men gained fewer total jobs than women this month, their jobs were less concentrated in low-wage sectors. Men’s largest gains were in manufacturing (22,000), leisure & hospitality (20,000) and construction (10,000).
Modern working desk with digital tabletThe wages, lack of benefits, and unstable working conditions of many low paying jobs are devastating to families and make it extremely difficult to balance work with caregiving responsibilities. Low wages can leave women and their families below or near the poverty line and contribute to the gender wage gap. Unpredictable and erratic schedules impact families’ access to high-quality child care, which impacts their children’s success at school. At the federal level (and at the state and local level), bills that would afford workers basic scheduling protections at their jobs and raise the minimum wage deserve action.
Turning to the unemployment numbers, 4.9 percent unemployment overall is the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 8 years, since February 2008. As always though, we will miss the full picture if we don’t look closely at the rates of vulnerable groups:

  • This month there was a noticeable increase in unemployment among adult African American women (20 and older), from 6.9 percent in December to 7.9 percent in January, suggesting that last month’s decline to 6.9 percent, from November’s 7.9 percent, was not a long term trend.
  • Among adult African American men, the unemployment rate declined from 8.7 percent to 8.4 percent, but this is still 4.5 percentage points higher than unemployment among adult white men.
  • The unemployment rates for adult Latinas and adult Latinos declined this month, from 6.3 percent to 5.9 percent, and from 5.5 percent to 4.9 percent, respectively.
  • For single moms, unemployment jumped from 5.8 percent in December to 7.1 percent in January.
  • Unemployment for women with disabilities (16-64) is alarmingly high at 11.0 percent (compared to 4.9 percent for women without disabilities).

As President Obama prepares to release his FY 2017 budget next week, and members of Congress will likely announce their own budget proposals, they should prioritize spending values that support women and their families. This includes preserving and strengthening safety net programs, increasing investments in child care and early learning, and expanding tax credits that benefit working families.