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Austerity is the Real Threat to Women's Job Growth

Jack Temple

By now it's pretty clear that Mitt Romney's recent claim about female job losses during the Obama presidency has more to do with selective number fudging and electoral pandering than factual accuracy. As Catherine Rampell reports in yesterday's New York Times, male-dominated sectors like construction and manufacturing were simply the first to get hit when the Recession started during the Bush presidency; meanwhile: 

Women are disproportionately employed in government...[and] government payrolls are generally not hit immediately when recession strikes, but several months or years afterward, when state and local governments are dealing with lower tax revenues from the suffering private sector.

In other words, it just so happens that Obama took office right when the second wave of job losses, concentrated in the female-dominated public sector, were starting to roll in.

This explanation is good for demonstrating that Obama is not single-handedly responsible for female job losses due to a shrinking public sector, but I'm not as satisfied with the way it frames public sector job losses as the inevitable consequence of falling tax revenues. 

Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert at the Roosevelt Institute demonstrated in a recent paper that the massive cuts to public sector employment occuring over the past three years have much more to do with conservative political ideology than the ripple-effects of the recession. From their report:

Public employment declined 2.6 percent over the last three years, the highest on record. Most of these losses were at the state level,...[and] the 11 states that the Republicans took over during the 2010 midterm elections account for 40.5 percent of the total losses. By itself, Texas accounts for an additional 31 percent of the total losses. (my emphasis)

This is pretty stunning: over 70 percent of all state/local public sector jobs losses in the last three years were due to conservative states gutting their public sector payrolls. If women are disproportionately impacted by a shrinking public sector, then we have wasteful austerity politics to blame, not President Obama.

In fact, it was President Obama's own American Jobs Act that proposed ramped-up funding for state and local governments that would have prevented 280,000 teacher layoffs across the U.S. And in a heroic effort to save teachers' jobs, the Senate GOP blocked this measure twice -- once as part of the American Jobs Act as a whole, and again one month later as its own bill.

Gov. Romney and the GOP can claim that they care about women's jobs, but in reality they just care about getting their vote -- but with this kind of record, I wouldn't hold my breath.