No, Barack Obama's Economic Plan Is Not Discriminating Against Women

Last summer, Moe wrote a rebuttal to a Linda Hirshman OpEd that came down to "I just think that, when one is being judgmental, one should be right." This is advice that Ms. Hirshman maybe should have taken before writing her latest OpEd about how Barack Obama's proposed stimulus plan is discriminating against women.

Hirshman writes:

The bulk of the stimulus program will provide jobs for men, because building projects generate jobs in construction, where women make up only 9 percent of the work force.

It turns out that green jobs are almost entirely male as well, especially in the alternative energy area. A broad study by the United States Conference of Mayors found that half the projected new jobs in any green area are in engineering, a field that is only 12 percent female, or in the heavily male professions of law and consulting; the rest are in such traditional male areas as manufacturing, agriculture and forestry. And like companies that build roads, alternative energy firms also employ construction workers and engineers.

This, on its face, is relatively true, though it could certainly be argued that expanding job growth and opportunity in these areas, particularly in the long term, would encourage more women to enter into the field, etc. It is, nonetheless, a fair criticism of what the stimulus package — as written — would do.

Here's where Hirshman ruins her entire argument — an argument, notably, that has been made by others before her.

But today, women constitute about 46 percent of the labor force. And as the current downturn has worsened, their traditionally lower unemployment rate has actually risen just as fast as men’s. A just economic stimulus plan must include jobs in fields like social work and teaching, where large numbers of women work.

Yeah, see, um, that part? It's not true.

Megan McArdle of The Atlantic, Daniel Drezner and The Economist all point to a story in last week's Boston Globe that shows the exact opposite to be true. There is a net job loss among men in this country to the tune of more than 1,000,000 male jobs — and women have added a net 12,000 jobs, even in this economy.

Men are losing jobs at far greater rates than women as the industries they dominate, such as manufacturing, construction, and investment services, are hardest hit by the downturn. Some 1.1 million fewer men are working in the United States than there were a year ago, according to the Labor Department. By contrast, 12,000 more women are working.

This gender gap is the product of both the nature of the current recession and the long-term shift in the US economy from making goods, traditionally the province of men, to providing services, in which women play much larger roles, economists said. For example, men account for 70 percent of workers in manufacturing, which shed more than 500,000 jobs over the past year. Healthcare, in which nearly 80 percent of the workers are women, added more than 400,000 jobs.

Heck, The Economist even points out that, given the expected layoffs in the auto industry, the gender gap in the downtown is likely to be even more pronounced — and more in favor of women. Drezner even adds that if you look at the percentage of unemployment among men and women before the start of the recession in September 2007 and as of last month, Hirshman's still wrong.

Monthly data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Hirshman’s assumpton is a flat-out falsehood. Immediately prior to the start of the recession (November 2007), the unemployment rate for men was 4.7%; the rate for women was 4.6%. As of November 2008, the unemployment rate for men has increased to 7.2%, while the unemployment rate for women has only risen to 6%.

Look, is there a rationale for arguing that the stimulus ought to include more jobs in traditionally female sectors of the economy? Sure, though I don't see where teachers and social workers come into it (or where they have faced layoffs, other than in a few libraries that Hirshman cites). Why not in the health care sector? In, um, media (or is that too self-interested)? Many of the women I worked with when I worked in banking doing backroom transactional work have probably been laid off as a result of the financial and housing crisis. Of course, one might also easily note that many of these groups of workers (and women) would be helped as part of Obama's other spending priorities and stimulus plans — and Hirshman does, but just dismisses it as not good enough.

The problem is, as again The Economist notes, that the stimulus is intended to provide assistance to the fields that are facing layoffs, cutbacks and hard financial times that are not otherwise affected by other legislation (like the financial bail-out). In most cases, these are male-dominated industries. But choosing to ignore both the facts of the gender gap in unemployment today and arguing that the stimulus needs to include more female-dominated sectors (like teaching) that are actually not nearly as affected as the male-dominated industries, Hirshman isn't arguing for parity or making a case for gains by women. She's arguing that we use the economic crisis to reduce the gender gap in wages and employment in this country by using limited resources to help women, possibly at the expense of men. By being, you know, wrong on so much, she negates the impact of the few things on which she might have arguably have been right.

Where Are The New Jobs For Women? [NY Times]
Women's Work [Megan McArdle]
Clearly Linda Hirshman Doesn't Read This Blog. What A Sexist. [Daniel Drezner]
Which Gender Needs More Stimulating [The Economist]
Losing Jobs In Unequal Numbers [Boston Globe]

Related: Looking to the Future, Feminism Has to Focus [Washington Post]
The Feminine Mistake [Washington Post]

Earlier: What You Get When You Pick On "Old School" Feminists' "Bedside Manner"