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guys (still) kick ass – part 1

Women and the workforce

Not one to shy from grand pronouncements, Rosin also declared at an NPR debate, “In 2010, for the first time ever, women became the majority of the work force. This is kind of an amazing fact.” In “The End of Men,” she writes, “Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs….”


Not quite.

The women-are-the-majority-of-the-workforce statistic comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but a) it was only briefly true, for four winter months in both 2009 and ’10; and b) it excludes millions of people engaging in paid work in mostly male-dominated professions. As Bill Clinton might say, it depends on what the definition of “workforce” is.

First, here’s a chart that better illuminates things:

See how much the graph wiggles around from year to year? That’s because these are seasonally unadjusted numbers, and a lot of people work in seasonal jobs. For example, many teachers have summers off, while a lot of outdoors work such as construction dries up in the winter months.

But see where the data points wiggle over the 50 percent mark in February, March, November and December of 2009 and January, February, March and April of 2010? That’s why some people are claiming women have become a majority of the workforce. (The percentage peaked at 50.357 in February 2010).

Of course, when you adjust for seasonality, this little statistical blip goes away.

Also, a lot of guys were laid off in the recession, obviously. But we’ve bounced back. Since May 2010, women have been from 49.9 percent to 48.8 percent of the “workforce.” The most-recent data, released Feb. 3, shows women at 49.3 percent for January.

Here are the raw numbers:

The same numbers, presented a little differently — so you don’t see population growth, just women’s share of the workforce:

But more importantly — this very statistic is deceptive, or at least incomplete. What journalists call the “workforce” comes from the Current Employment Statistics program, a large survey conducted monthly by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also called the payroll survey or establishment survey, this program “surveys about 140,000 businesses and government agencies, representing approximately 440,000 individual worksites, in order to provide detailed industry data on employment, hours, and earnings of workers on nonfarm payrolls.”

When you hear on the news that first Friday of the month Labor Department statistics that the nation gained or lost X number of jobs the previous month, that’s where the data is coming from — the payroll survey. (That was also the source source on all these graphs)

But there’s an obvious limit to this data. Because it’s a survey of businesses and governments aimed at payrolls, it doesn’t include:

  • Management. Yup, the “workforce” doesn’t include managers … and, as we’ve already covered, about 60 percent of the nation’s 15 million managers are men. (In the BLS’ words, the payroll survey includes “production employees in mining and logging and manufacturing, construction employees in construction, and nonsupervisory employees in the service-providing industries. These groups account for approximately four-fifths of the total employment on private nonfarm payrolls.” In other words, it excludes more than 20 percent of total nonfarm payroll employment.)
  • The unincorporated self-employed. In 2009, 62.4 percent of the 9.8 million unincorporated self-employed were men, according to BLS.
  • Farmers. Men made up 70 percent of the 3.3 million farm operators in 2007, according to the Department of Agriculture. Among the 754,000 hired farm laborers, 84 percent were male in 2010.
  • Active-duty members of the military. There were 1.43 million servicemembers on active duty as of September 30, 2011, and 85.5 percent were male. About 1 million to 1.2 million were stationed in the U.S. as of June 30, depending on how you count.
  • Domestic workers hired directly by families. (This would be the one category where women dominate). There were about 247,000 nannies employed by individual families in 2008, according to BLS, and there are obviously other occupations where workers are hired directly.

Still, the workers excluded from this statistical definition of the workforce are generally men.

Now — I know your objection here. You’re saying, “Hey, it’s a big country, Rose. No statistic is ever going to measure everyone. Don’t be a nit-picker unless you have something better to offer.”

Well… as a matter of fact… I do have something better to offer. The BLS actually conducts another survey every month — the Current Population Survey, aka the household survey. This is a monthly survey of 60,000 households that is used to derive the unemployment figures you hear on the news. As the BLS says, “the household survey has a more expansive scope than the establishment survey because it includes the self-employed, unpaid family workers, agricultural workers, and private household workers, who are excluded by the establishment survey.” (It still doesn’t include the 30 to 35 percent of Department of Defense personnel living stateside on military bases, but what can you do).

When you look at the household survey, in January, 73.2 million men over the age of 20 and 64.1 million women over the age 20 said they were employed. On a (seasonally adjusted) percentage basis, 73.3 percent of men were classified as “participating in the labor force” — which is to say, they were either employed (full-time or part-time) or were actively looking for work. Women’s “participation rate” was 59.3 percent. Fully 67.7 percent of men over 20 were actually employed, compared to 54.7 percent of women.

So basically, according to BLS, in January there were 9.1 million more men working than women. Claims that women make up a majority of the workforce are misleading at best.

(This is not a typical way in which you’d look at these labor statistics. Generally you’d look at, what percentage of women vs. men are working. This is a chart that illustrates, out of all the people who told the U.S. Census Bureau they were working, what percentage were women. I’ve broken down the numbers by full-time workers (35+ hours/week) and by total employment, as well as by seasonality).

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