Rodney Ringler is an unemployed blue collar male without a college
degree. He's hardly alone. Men like him have been the main victims of
the current recession in the United States.
I haven't worked since December of 2007, around the time this
recession started, Ringler, a 49-year-old computer technician, said as
he walked his dog in a Dallas suburb.
He sees little light at the end of the tunnel.
I've been looking to get into law enforcement because it's a growth area, he said, but had no immediate prospects.
One statistic that stands out in America's recession-stung economy
is the unemployment rate for adult men: in April for the second month
in a row it surged ahead of the national average to 9.4 percent versus
8.9 percent for all workers. The jobless rate for adult women was 7.1
The reasons are clear: male-heavy sectors such as construction and
manufacturing have been hard hit. But the implications may be dire for
the broader economy and hamper the recovery as families that once had
male breadwinners struggle.
In the 2001 recession, 51 percent of all job losses were for men.
It was evenly split. But in this recession 80 percent of the jobs that
have been lost have been men's, said Andrew Sum, a labor economics
professor at Northeastern University who has studied this issue in
Men also incurred about 80 percent of the job losses in the 1990-91
recession, but Sum said by his calculations the numbers this time were
dramatically different. In the 1990-91 recession, men lost 1.037
million jobs. They have lost 4.5 million to date in this one.
This time around it is amazingly different in terms of the magnitude, Sum said.
It's difficult to compare to earlier recessions because women
entered the workforce in big numbers from the 1970s, and industries
that continue to grow such as health services favor women.
The male jobless rate is pumped up by white collar banking jobs lost
during the global financial crisis. A few of these may have been sent
overseas but job growth in this sector should come back in time,
HARD TIMES AHEAD
The fact that American males without a college degree are especially
vulnerable in this cycle point to more hard times ahead for the U.S.
working class, which has endured stagnant and declining wages for the
last three decades.
The skilled and semi-skilled jobs they traditionally held have been
moving overseas to places like China and Vietnam. The jobs that remain
pay less, amid declining union membership.
One study by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution think-tank
found median U.S. family income rose to $53,280 by the middle of this
decade in 2004 dollars from $37,384 in 1964. But for males aged 30 to
39, average annual personal income fell from the mid-1970s by around
$5,000 to $35,000.
The growth in family incomes is mostly from women entering the
workforce. But during this recession that will hardly compensate given
the scale of male job losses.
For those without a college degree or better, it has been a bloodbath.
College-educated men have lost 1.4 percent of their employment
levels since right before the beginning of the recession in November
2007, but for men as a whole it has been nearly six percent, said Sum.
Sum said in the last recession the effects were felt more evenly
across gender and occupational lines and that construction jobs grew
from mid-2002 onward at a strong rate through 2007. But production and
manufacturing jobs fell steadily through 2005 before making a modest
recovery, and then falling swiftly.
EXPANDED WOMEN'S ROLE
This is grim news for struggling blue collar families. While women's
role in the workforce has expanded, by some estimates the male remains
the main breadwinner in about 75 percent of two-income U.S. households.
When males lose their jobs ... women become more important to
family income, and those that have not been working will re-enter the
labor market to sustain family income, said Peter Doeringer, a
Professor of Economics at Boston University.
Patti Sutton, 58, a coffee shop worker in the Phoenix Valley, falls into this category.
Her husband Scott was laid off in October last year. He had worked
for 18 years for a company as a heavy equipment operator excavating the
foundations for luxury homes, earning about $800-900 a week without
overtime, and was among the last five workers to be laid off from a
staff of 155.
I am now the family breadwinner, said Sutton. She went out to work
to get health insurance coverage for her husband in the year before he
was laid off after he lost coverage for a heart condition from his
employer. He needs a heart transplant, and was facing insurance costs
of $1,800 a month.
It's not like I'm exactly earning enough to be the breadwinner,
she said. Basically this job is for insurance, what I bring home
barely covers food and maybe a utility.
Her situation may be permanent, she said, though construction jobs
are seen coming back eventually, spurred in part by President Barack Obama's $787 billion fiscal stimulus plan that includes funds for road and bridge construction.
But many manufacturing jobs are gone for good, as huge sectors like the auto industry suffer profound cuts.
Doeringer said the recession will leave the economy sharply restructured.
The construction jobs will return, but we are seeing an unusually
sharp drop in what is left of manufacturing and much of that drop will
not be recovered when the recession ends, and much of what does remain
will have be at lower wages with reduced fringe benefits, he said.