Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How About Those Pink-Collar Jobs?

Linda Hirshman makes an important point about the new planned infrastructure projects as a vehicle for fighting the recession and employing more people: They are not going to help very many unemployed women directly:

BARACK OBAMA has announced a plan to stimulate the economy by creating 2.5 million jobs over the next two years. He intends to use the opportunity to make good on two campaign promises — to invest in road and bridge maintenance and school repair and to create jobs that reduce energy use and emissions that lead to global warming.

Mr. Obama compared his infrastructure plan to the Eisenhower-era construction of the Interstate System of highways. It brings back the Eisenhower era in a less appealing way as well: there are almost no women on this road to recovery.

Back before the feminist revolution brought women into the workplace in unprecedented numbers, this would have been more understandable. But today, women constitute about 46 percent of the labor force. And as the current downturn has worsened, their traditionally lower unemployment rate has actually risen just as fast as men's. A just economic stimulus plan must include jobs in fields like social work and teaching, where large numbers of women work.

The bulk of the stimulus program will provide jobs for men, because building projects generate jobs in construction, where women make up only 9 percent of the work force.

Isn't it interesting how policies which on the face of it look gender-neutral are not really so, especially given the high levels of occupational gender segregation in this country? Still, there are some possibilities for creating more jobs for women, too:

Fortunately, jobs for women can be created by concentrating on professions that build the most important infrastructure — human capital. In 2007, women were 83 percent of social workers, 94 percent of child care workers, 74 percent of education, training and library workers (including 98 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 92 percent of teachers' assistants).

Libraries are closing or cutting back everywhere, while demand for their services, including their Internet connections, has risen. Philadelphia's proposal last month to close 11 branches brought people into the street to protest.

Many of the jobs women do are already included in Mr. Obama's campaign promises. Women are teachers, and the campaign promised to provide support for families with children up to the age of 5, increase Head Start financing and quadruple the money spent on Early Head Start to include a quarter-million infants and toddlers. Special education, including arts education, is heavily female as well. Mr. Obama promised to increase financing for arts education and for the National Endowment for the Arts, which supports many school programs.

Also, Susan G. at Daily Kos pointed out that Obama addressed women directly in his speech about these projects. I hope that this means that he plans for projects which employ both men and women who have lost their jobs.