One of the sole points at which Democratic legislators stood and applauded President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, it was done ironically.
Trump was briefly noting gains made by women during his administration.
“No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year,” Trump said.
That many of those new jobs were created for Democratic legislators following the 2018 midterm elections was not lost on those in attendance. Democratic freshmen stood to applaud that particular bit of job creation.
“You weren’t supposed to do that,” Trump joked, then returning to his script. “All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.”
“Don’t sit yet,” he added, “You’re going to like this: And exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before.”
The point of Trump’s rhetoric, interrupted as it was, was to highlight gains that he believes women have made during his administration — gains for which he would like some credit. But those three points of data he offered — filling 58 percent of new jobs, more women working than ever before and more women in Congress than before — don’t exactly tell the story he is hoping.
58 percent of new jobs
It is true that, from February 2018 through January, 58.3 percent of new jobs were claimed by women. There are various bits of context that are important to hang on that figure: This is a comparison in the number of people counted on non-farm payrolls over that time period, meaning that it misses some of the variability of the job market. But of the 2.8 million more people who are working, 1.6 million are women.
However, that’s not unique.
If we look at every calendar year since 1965 (since the 12-month period doesn’t really matter), we see that, in years where both men and women gained in employment, there have been 10 times that the percentage has topped 58.3 percent. The figure in 2018 exceeded 60 percent, which had been bested only seven times prior. One of those times was 2016, when the figure was 64.2 percent.
The annual averages are rough, but the graph shows that after each of the past two recessions, women have been slower to regain employment than men. Over the past 50 years, though, the growth in the number of women working has been much more rapid than the growth in the number of men working.
Bringing us to our next point.
More women working
There are indeed more women working than at any point in the past, about 74.9 million, according to the most recent data. That’s nearly equivalent to the number of men working, a parity that emerged during the recession a decade ago.
That equivalence is interesting. That more women are working than ever? Less so.
At times, Trump’s tried to hype the fact that more people, men or women, are working than ever before, always neglecting to mention the key reason that’s the case: population growth. There couldn’t have been 75 million women working in the United States in 1965 because there were about 64 million women older than 14 in the United States that year. Expanded employment is good, but more people working in a more populous country isn’t necessarily meaningful.
Economists factor population growth into their analysis of employment. There’s a metric called the employment-population ratio that looks at the number of people employed as a function of the population of that group. From 1965 to about 2000, this metric soared as more women joined the workforce.
It peaked at 58 percent in April 2000 and hasn’t hit that mark since.
In other words, while more women are working than ever, as a percentage of working-age women, the number of women working still lags the economic boom of 20 years ago.
More women in Congress
Then there’s that point about having more women in Congress. As those Democratic women recognized, that’s almost entirely a function of Democrats being elected to Congress.
To hammer the point home, here’s the distribution of the new House by race and gender.
There are more than three times as many women of color in the Democratic House caucus than there are women in the Republican caucus overall.
Ironically, it’s this metric, that surge in Democratic women winning House seats, for which Trump could believably claim the most direct credit. He probably won’t.