Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Why women’s unemployment rates are set to rise

Nicola Smith
 The TUC Toucstone blog has contributions from Congress House staff. The blog below has been posted by the Head of our Economic Affairs department, Nicola Smith.

New TUC analysis (admittedly published several weeks ago – but time has been tight!) shows that women are set for a tough time in the labour market. Across the UK more women than men work in the public sector, and it turns out that 34 per cent of women who are employed (around 4,650,000 women) are in public sector jobs compared to 17 per cent of employed men (around 2,600,000)*. In some regions female unemployment is even more concentrated in public sector employment: 42 per cent of employed women in Northern Ireland, 37 per cent in the North West and 36 per cent in Yorkshire are in public sector jobs. Given 110,000 public sector jobs were lost in the second quarter (over five times more than the OBR forecast anticipated would be lost over the entire financial year) if job losses continue at even half this rate women are set to take a considerable hit.

But our key finding is that over the last decade the public sector has been responsible for the vast majority of net female jobs growth (84 per cent), whereas for men it has only created 39 per cent of net new jobs. Not only do women look set to lose a lot of work, but it’s far from clear where they will find new jobs.

The poorer rate of private sector jobs growth over the decade is clearly partly a result of the global recession. However, the sharp gender divide shows the extent to which women’s employment rates have been linked to new public sector employment opportunities. In some regions the position is even starker. In the East and West Midlands, and in the South East, private sector net job creation for women was negative. The proportion of all employed women, and men, working in the public sector has risen over the decade – from 31 per cent to 34 per cent for women and from 16 per cent to 17 per cent for men. No doubt these figures are now set to fall – with a great deal of human pain in the process. Whether those who lose their jobs will find more work is another question: our analysis also sets out the extent of the ongoing fall in manufacturing employment and the hit that retail jobs took during the recession. The harsh reality is that at the moment it really is hard to see where the new jobs are going to come from.

* Note: these figures are from the Labour Force Survey, which is a self-reported sample survey. This means that the numbers reporting as employed in the public sector are slightly larger than ONS’s public sector employment series (which is not disaggregated by gender) as they also include people who work for private sector contractors in the public sector, for example in cleaning or security roles.

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