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Equality the Hard Way: Women’s Employment, Pay Decreasing

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A recently issued congressional study confirms what some economists have suspected for some time: Women are now losing jobs in equal numbers to men.

The economy’s current slowdown—following seven years of growth—is erasing two decades of progress for working women. Since the early 1960s, women historically have weathered recessions relatively well, retaining jobs at higher rates than men. The report says that trend ended in the fourth quarter of 2007.

For women ages 25–54, employment peaked in 2000 when 74.9% of them held jobs. Today’s rate is 72.7%, roughly the same as it was in 1988.

Strikingly, the job losses cut across educational, racial and marital-status lines, with roughly the same pattern holding for women within all groups.

Pay is also lower for women now than it was just a few years ago. Adjusted for inflation, women ages 25–54 earn a median wage of $14.84 per hour, down from $15.04 in 2004, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Men in the same age group earn about $2 more per hour.

The report, Equality in Job Loss, was released July 22 by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.

It shows that employment rates for women grew in the 1990s as a result of welfare reform. But congressional researchers found that workers with marginal or low-demand skills are the first ones squeezed out when the economy contracts.

Implications for employers

Layoffs always carry risks for employers. They risk charges of age, gender or race discrimination if their job cuts affect one group more than another. In these times, any group of furloughed workers will most likely include many women. If it looks like the employer treated women less favorably than men, expect a discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Employers facing the prospect of cutting jobs should develop objective standards for determining which positions will be eliminated. Thoroughly document all layoff decisions in case you have to explain the reasoning to a jury.

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