The XX Factor

Don’t Leave Women Out of the Economic Recovery

Obama spoke about job growth at Tuesday night’s State of the Union.

Photo by Charles Dharapak/AFP/Getty Images

During Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Obama spoke pointedly of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States: 

After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again. 

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

Obviously, there’s every reason to support the return of manufacturing jobs to the United States. These jobs provide stable employment and better pay than many of the service industry jobs that workers often take in their absence. They’re full-time jobs with benefits and help fix our underemployment problem along with our unemployment problem. Everyone should applaud a plan to increase the number of these jobs available to American workers.

But we should also echo Abigail Adams in her plea to her powerful husband to remember the ladies. Women have been largely left out of the economic recovery so far, only getting 30 percent of the 5.3 million jobs added since December 2009. As Floyd Norris of the New York Times notes, this was acceptable to a degree, as men had lost more jobs than women in the recession and were simply getting those jobs back. But now men are running ahead while women are falling behind: 

In January, 54.6 percent of women over the age of 20 had jobs. That was the lowest proportion since 1993, and 0.8 percentage point lower than the figure in December 2009. By contrast, 67.6 percent of men over 20 had jobs, a rate that is 1.3 percentage points higher than it was at the end of 2009, although still below prerecession levels.

Leaving women out of the recovering job market is bad on a number of levels, beyond just basic fairness. As noted at ThinkProgress, two-thirds of households now have women as a primary or co-breadwinner, which means that if women do better, families do better. In addition, we know that the best economic stimulus is getting more money into the hands of people who need it most—the poorer they are, the more likely they are to spend the money they have. (This is why food stamps are such a great economic stimulus.) Steering women into more and better jobs means getting money to where it’s most needed, and not just because women continue to suffer from a persistent wage gap. Five million more women than men live in poverty, and single mothers especially suffer from disproportionate rates of poverty. Getting more women into stable, full-time jobs would not only relieve suffering but mean that more money was flowing into the economy in terms of consumer spending. This is not to say that men should be sacrificed so that women can work—only that an economic recovery that doesn’t include both women and men can’t be a robust recovery at all.

So, what should the president do to include women in the jobs push? There are two major things that could be done right now. First, end austerity measures and restore the lost government jobs, as the loss of those jobs disproportionately affected women. Two, target women in these new initiatives to create manufacturing jobs. These jobs tend to be associated with men, but that doesn’t mean women wouldn’t be just as interested and trainable as their male counterparts if they were targeted by aggressive recruitment strategies. The Obama administration ended the unfair ban on women in combat and was met with massive public support. The public is ready to start seeing women move into traditionally masculine employment realms, and Obama should strike while the iron—or the 3-D printing industry—is hot.