I am feeling guilty. So, it turns out, should all the other, ahem, working ladies. It turns out we are partly to blame for the unemployment which, in case you haven't heard, has now matched the post-World War II peak set in May 1975.
Speaking to a meeting of editors and broadcasters last week, Dr. Ronald Reagan, the renowned economist, offered the latest presidential analysis of the employment situation, and in his typically upbeat fashion, pointed out that the percentage of people who have jobs is almost at a record high.
"The record was 59 percent, and today 57 percent of the people of working age have jobs in spite of the high unemployment," he said. "Part of the unemployment is not as much recession as it is the great increase in the people going into the job market, and, ladies, I'm not picking on anyone, but because of the increase in women who are working today and two-worker families and so forth."
In other words, if more of the ladies stayed home, there would be less unemployment. And all along we were blaming things like high interest rates!
Dr. Reagan has, historically, had a rather factloose approach to the unemployment issue. Earlier this year, he announced that the rise in unemployment that has occurred during his administration was a continuation of the rise that began in the last months of the Carter administration. In fact, unemployment had declined slightly during the last months of the Carter administration and even continued to decline during the first few months of the Reagan administration, down to 7 percent last July. Then began the steady increase that peaked at 9 percent this March.
Depending on whether you use seasonally adjusted figures or not, there are around 10 million people unemployed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these include (without seasonal adjustment) 5.2 million adult men, 3.3 million adult women and 1.8 million teen-agers. Nearly 2 million more adult males are unemployed than are women. If we are going to be singling out groups that are causing unemployment, is it not more appropriate to single out men? Or what about the immigrants? The unemployment rate for Hispanics was 12.7 percent.
The past 20 years has seen an extraordinary influx of women into the labor force, and the economy has done a rather good job of accommodating them, particularly in the expanding service sector. In fact, the unemployment rate for women is actually slightly lower than that for men because women are in the service sector, which is more recession-proof. The sectors that produce goods, such as autos and housing, where male workers predominate, are the ones directly affected by the recession.
"We're in a big recession," says Barbara Bergmann, an associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland, "Something very bad has happened since last summer. The bad thing is not women coming into the labor force. Women have been coming into the labor force since the turn of the century . . . If women left the labor force tomorrow, it would reduced the measured unemployment rate, but it would in no way help the economy."
"He (Reagan) is saying some people deserve jobs more than others. He's in plenty of trouble with women voters. This kind of statement is going to get him into more trouble," she says. "The idea of picking on one group and saying their unemployment is less important than others' unemployment is sort of low."
Dr. Reagan notwithstanding, most economists are blaming unemployment and the recession on the tight money that is restricting all kinds of investment. "This," as Dr. Bergmann says, "has become very severe and it hasn't seemed to reach bottom yet."
High unemployment is going to be with Dr. Reagan for awhile. What he seems not to understand -- still -- is that women are just as entitled to work as men, and just as entitled to be unemployed.
About 2 million more people were out of work in April than they were when the recession began in July. To try to blame this on working women and two-income families -- a labor group that has been with us for years, without causing this kind of unemployment -- is, as Dr. Bergmann suggests, rather pathetic. Instead of blaming women for part of the unemployment, Dr. Reagan -- and I'm not picking on anyone -- ought to place part of the blame on himself.