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Job Gender Surveys May End

Agency Wants to Stop Collecting Male vs. Female Numbers

By Nell Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2005; Page A19

Women hold nearly half of the nation's non-farm payroll jobs, up from almost a third in 1964, government figures show.

That is the kind of information the government would soon stop collecting under a plan announced last month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) want male-female workforce statistical breakdowns to continue. (File Photo)

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The federal agency said it plans to stop gathering employer job counts of female workers, in part because there is little demand for the figures.

Not so, say policymakers and researchers who are asking the agency to keep gathering the data to provide a full picture of the labor market.

The tallies of female workers are a valued part of the bureau's monthly survey of employer payroll records, said Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), co-chairwomen of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, in a letter they and other House members were circulating on Capitol Hill yesterday.

They plan to send the letter to agency Commissioner Kathleen P. Utgoff "to express our concern" about the plan to drop the data on female workers.

"With a gender breakdown, the payroll survey is capable of painting a reliable picture of where women are working across industries and business cycles," the letter says. "Without a gender breakdown, that picture becomes far more difficult to obtain."

The bureau, in a Dec. 22 Federal Register notice, said another reason to stop asking about women is that the agency plans to start asking for more job and wage information on all workers, and wants to avoid overburdening the employers that provide the data.

The bureau also said it will continue to publish other information on women's employment trends, which it gathers from census surveys of households. Those figures include the male and female unemployment rates.

But critics of the bureau's plan note that the surveys provide different information, and economists widely agree that the payroll survey is the more accurate one. The payroll survey is based on a much larger sample and on employers' legal records, while the household survey is based on individuals' answers to Census Bureau questions.

The payroll survey does not include agricultural workers, the self-employed or unpaid family workers, all of whom are included in the household survey. The payroll survey counts jobs and provides breakdowns by industry; the household survey counts people and provides breakdowns by gender, age, race and education level.

The payroll survey shows, for example, that the number of jobs held by women grew in retailing while it fell in manufacturing over the past year through November, the most recent month for which data are available.

The data also show that while both women and men lost work during the recession and the two years that followed, the number of jobs held by women bounced back faster, noted Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which is protesting the bureau's plan.

Women held 63.7 million non-farm payroll jobs in August, surpassing the number they held when the recession began in March 2001. Meanwhile, the nation's total job count in December was still slightly below its pre-recession peak.

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