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'Man-cession' Ends as Males Learn New Job Skills

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some of us called it the man-cession. In the deep recession that lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, many more men than women lost their jobs.

The imbalance was huge. The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a decline of 5.4 million jobs for men versus 2.1 million for women. So 71 percent of job losses were absorbed by men.

If the numbers had been the other way around, you surely would have seen a lot of newspaper and magazine stories about women as the victims of the recession -- the kind of stories with headlines reading "Women, minorities hardest hit."

There were fewer such stories about the impact of the recession on men. One reason is that job losses, as is usually the case in recessions, were heaviest in construction and manufacturing, sectors in which men tend to predominate.

The other reason is that the journalistic class is just not inclined to see men as victims. So we haven't seen much investigation into whether the man-cession led to more divorces, family breakups, substance abuse or suicides.

There's another factor at work here: the difference between public-sector and private-sector jobs. During the recession, almost all the job losses were in the private sector.

Public-sector employment held up pretty well in the recession and into 2010. One reason was the Obama Democrats' February 2009 stimulus package, one-third of which was aid to state and local governments -- in which most jobs are held by women.

This was an attempt to maintain employment among public-sector union members. Such unions account for most union members, and unions channeled $400 million to Democratic campaigns in the 2008 campaign cycle.

But now the stimulus funds have run out, and public-sector payrolls are falling.

This helps to account for the fact, highlighted in a recent Pew Research Center report and a Washington Post news story, that from June 2009 to May 2011, the number of men with jobs rose by 768,000 while the number of women with jobs fell by 218,000.

The man-cession has become a (not large) man-covery.

This is in contrast to the economic recoveries following every recession since 1970, in which women gained more jobs than men. It seems to have left the Pew researchers puzzled.

It hasn't resulted from any massive increase in construction or manufacturing jobs. As the Pew report notes, men have gained more jobs than women in 15 of 16 major sectors of the economy. (The sole exception is state government.)

Men have gained jobs in the retail sector, in which women have lost them. The retail, manufacturing and finance sector employed 253,000 more men in May 2011 than in June 2009 and 433,000 fewer women.

And men have gained more jobs than women in health and education -- two sectors in which employment has grown during the past decade.

What I see beneath these data is something like this: a picture of men hustling to acquire new skills and learn how to do different jobs than they have in the past, while many women sit back and accept whatever the macroeconomy doles out.

A lot of men seem to have figured out that health and education, as Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz argue in the lead article in the latest edition of National Affairs, have become the "commanding heights" of the economy.

What we are seeing, I think, is that individuals, most of them men, have been responding to cues sent by the market economy and have been adjusting far more rapidly than centrally designed government programs ever could do.

It's analogous to what we've seen recently in the energy sector. While government has been huffing and puffing about "green jobs" and relying more on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, the oil and gas industries have developed new techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking to vastly increase the commercially viable supply of oil and natural gas.

Unfortunately, the man-covery has not been proceeding fast enough to produce the kind of robust recovery that we've had after most past recessions. Friday's announcement that the economy last month gained only 18,000 jobs -- in a nation of about 311,720,000 people -- makes that clear.

But the man-covery gives reason to hope that if the dead weight of high government spending and overregulation can be removed, our economy can boom once again.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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