Women Struggling To Stay Afloat In Weak Economy

While headlines have screamed about the mancession, new articles and studies reveal that women are not immune to career instability. Indeed, female veterans, young women, older women, and single moms are all bearing the brunt of our crumbling economy.

The NYT asks us to consider "the new poor" - formerly middle class workers who are now relying on public assistance and other programs just to get by.

Here in Southern California, Jean Eisen has been without work since she lost her job selling beauty salon equipment more than two years ago. In the several months she has endured with neither a paycheck nor an unemployment check, she has relied on local food banks for her groceries. [...]

Warm, outgoing and prone to the positive, Ms. Eisen has worked much of her life. Now, she is one of 6.3 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer, the largest number since the government began keeping track in 1948. That is more than double the toll in the next-worst period, in the early 1980s.

Economists are especially concerned about the employment prospects of older Americans, people who had formerly been doing fine with a high school diploma and some basic work experience. As industrial jobs dry up and more and more positions require a mix of technical skills and higher education, many workers in the 45-64 range (especially women) are finding themselves shut out of the market.

Eisen's story shows a direct decline in social services and standards of living. She first became a stay-at-home mom while her husband worked an industrial job. When times got hard during the 1980s, she was able to secure clerical jobs that paid an average of thirteen dollars an hour, many of which came with health insurance. After her husband was injured on the job, she became their sole means of support. However, after two years of unemployment and off and on benefits, the couple has exhausted their savings and turned to food banks and state assistance. In the meantime, Eisen is searching for fast food and night shift jobs in hopes of bringing any kind of income into the house.

The abysmal job situation is exacerbated by the lack of social services, which are often the subject of federal and state budget cuts. The NYT makes a special point to note:

Reforms in the mid-1990s imposed time limits on cash assistance for poor single mothers, a change predicated on the assumption that women would trade welfare checks for paychecks. [...]

"We have a work-based safety net without any work," said Timothy M. Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "People with more education and skills will probably figure something out once the economy picks up. It's the ones with less education and skills: that's the new poor."

Last week, the Institute for Women's Policy Research released a study demonstrating that single parents were in fact being left out of the national conversation on joblessness. Focusing their research on the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, the study's authors report:

Nationally, 13 percent of single mothers are unemployed, the report said. In Pennsylvania, that figure rose from 5 percent in 2007 to 11.1 percent in 2009.

"Many families are suffering economic hardship, but families maintained by women face higher rates of poverty and higher rates of unemployment," said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Poverty rates for households headed by single mothers have also risen during the recession, from 35.4 percent in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in 2007 to 43.5 percent in 2008.

Younger employees are feeling the pinch as well, spending only a few years in the workforce before layoffs catch up to them. Another NYT pice touts "The Return of The Ski Bum" but the picture painted is more desperation than enjoyment:

Rachel Geddes, 26, moved to Snowmass in 2008 after working for the American Red Cross in a white-collar job. "My mom is a vice president of a company, my dad's a surgeon and I'm working in a ticketing office," she said, acknowledging that the embarrassment was tough to get over at first.

Other downsides include going back to an hourly wage.

"I can't go to Neiman's and buy a new pair of shoes; like that's not going to happen anymore," she said. "A lot of people say my life is better than vacation, and in a lot of ways it is. But in a lot of ways, it's just not."

Female veterans are also being heavily impacted by the economy. A new report from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans association spells out the overwhelming obstacles facing combat veterans who are looking to reintegrate into civilian society.

The report, "Women Warriors," says female veterans earn on average $10,000 a year less in civilian jobs than male vets, making it harder to afford a home. And less than 5 percent of the homeless shelters run by the Veterans Affairs Department offer women separate housing from men.

"There are a variety of reasons why someone can end up homeless. A core factor many of them face is untreated mental health injuries like post traumatic stress disorder," Rieckhoff said.

Congress is gearing up for a new battle over a jobs bill to help Americans return to work - however, the same patterns of behavior that dogged health care reform are beginning to emerge. The Politico reports that Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins threw down conditions for their support, while Scott Brown has been noncommittal with his support. Meanwhile, Harry Reid is threatening to call a cloture vote today to ensure the bills doesn't stall in the halls of Congress. In the meantime, most Americans are taking survival day by day.

Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs [New York Times]
Report examines effect of recession on single mothers [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
The Return of the Ski Bum [New York Times]
For Women Veterans, Battles Go On at Home [CBS News]
Three who could make, break jobs bill [Politico]
Dem govs want more from jobs bill [Politico]