Are Obama’s job policies hurting women?
By Glenn Kessler,
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES “For far too long women have been left behind in Obama’s job market. Of the 740,000 jobs lost since Obama took office, 683,000 of them were held by women. That is truly unsustainable.”
— Statement by Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, April 6, 2012
In an effort to fight back against Democratic claims of a Republican “war on women,” the Republican National Committee has rolled out a new and startling fact—that under Obama, women have lost seven times as many jobs as men.
We found this statistic surprising because we had been under the impression that men had fared worse than women in the recession. So do the RNC’s numbers add up?
First of all, readers know we frown on the somewhat arbitrary dividing line of measuring jobs statistics by presidential terms. It is a common journalistic — and political — metric. But restarting the employment clock from the moment the president takes the oath of office doesn’t tell you much about a his performance, especially since it takes time for the new president’s policies to take effect.
We’ve argued, without much success, that it would make more sense to measure Obama’s job performance from the end of the recession — June 2009 — since that would also allow at least five months for his policies, such as the stimulus bill, to kick in.
But just as Democrats prefer to measure job growth starting with the period when positive job growth started, Republicans prefer to date Obama’s performance from the moment he took office, as the economy was shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month.
The RNC calculated these figures by comparing the decline in the number of all nonfarm employees from January 2009 to March 2012 with the decline in jobs held by women in that period. The numbers, derived from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, do add up.
But there is less to this stat than meets the eye. First of all, why start in January? Obama, after all took office on January 20. If you start the data in February, then the overall job loss is just 16,000 jobs—while women lost 484,000 jobs. (We should note that in a previous column we said that, by picking January, the RNC was using a relative common measure of job growth during a presidency.)
How could women lose more jobs than the overall total? It’s a function of the dates one picks. In fact, the picture becomes clearer if you start running the data from the date the recession began — December 2007. With that starting point, the total decline in jobs was just over 5 million, with women accounting for nearly 1.8 million of those jobs.
Now look what happens when we just look at the past year, March 2011 to March 2012. Men gained nearly 1.9 million jobs while women gained 635,000 jobs.
In other words, men did lose more jobs in the recession. Now that the economy is growing again, men are recovering jobs at a faster pace than women. In fact, the latest employment report shows that male participation in the work force was up 14,000 while female participation fell 177,000, in part because women tend to work in retail or government jobs (such as teaching), which have been cut in recent months.
Is this a function of Obama’s policies? Or should blame rest with individual state governors who have slashed government jobs? It’s unclear at this point, but it certainly is an under-reported phenomenon that the RNC, in its use of this statistic, is trying to highlight.
“If employment was growing in the way he predicted he would certainly be taking credit for it so I think it equally fair to acknowledge how it is falling short,” said Sean Spicer, RNC director of communications.
(For the record: here are the statistics if one measures from the end of the recession, our preferred metric: more than 2.2 million jobs have been added under Obama, but the gain for women was just 284,000.)
The Pinocchio Test
We cannot fault the RNC’s math, as the numbers add up. But at this point this figure doesn’t mean very much. It may simply a function of a coincidence of timing — a brief blip that could have little to do with “Obama’s job market.”
If trends hold up over the next few months, then the RNC might have a better case. But at this point we will give this statistic our rarely used label:
TRUE BUT FALSE
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