The unemployment rate dropped in November, but that’s not good news — the drop was driven almost entirely by an exodus of nearly 400,000 workers from the labor force.
And for the first time since the recovery began after a pandemic recession that has decimated jobs held by women, the majority of the job losses in November were sustained by men, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
About 347,000 men left the workforce in November, compared to about 10,000 women. That’s in stark contrast to September, when 865,000 women left the labor force — four times the number of men that month.
The drop-off is somewhat striking because aside from March and April of this year, when the majority of the pandemic-related job losses took place, men hadn’t lost so many jobs so quickly since 2013.
What this means and how this will bear out remains to be seen, cautioned William Rodgers, a professor of public policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
“The narrative still is that women of all backgrounds and also minority men, they’ve borne the brunt of the downturn and their recovery… hasn’t been strong,” said Rodgers, who also previously served as chief economist in the Department of Labor.
Still, the fall in men’s participation begs a question: “Could this be the beginning of this pandemic recession looking more like a typical recession — where it spreads across more workers who are typically viewed as advantaged?”
There are also other signs that the recession’s effects are getting broader. November was the second month this year that the male unemployment rate was higher than the female unemployment rate: 6.7 percent for men, compared to 6.1 percent for women.
Even more concerning: The number of people who have been unemployed for 27 months or longer continues to grow. It grew by 385,000 in November to nearly 4 million people, more than a third of the total number of people without a job.
That figure is expected to hit 40 percent soon, mimicking the Great Recession, during which time the share of long-term unemployed remained at around 40 percent for three years, said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank.
“The days of imagining a V-shaped recovery are over,” Gould said. “The easy gains we saw this summer of people on temporary layoffs getting rehired — that’s over. We are going to have to work hard to claw back all those jobs.”
Month after month, the share of jobs that have returned since the depths of the crisis in April, when 20.8 million jobs vanished, has slowed.
In May 2.7 million jobs returned. In June it was 4.8 million.
In July 1.8 million came back, and then in August it was 1.5 million.
By September, the figure was 711,000. In October it was 610,000.
That means that while the unemployment rate dropped from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent overall last month, it was due to drop in the share of people who were participating in the labor force.
President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement Friday on what he called a “grim” report.
“It’s deeply troubling that last month’s drop in overall unemployment in this report was driven by people dropping out of the labor market altogether — they’ve lost hope for finding a job or they’ve taken on full-time caregiving responsibilities as child care centers remain closed and their children learn remotely,” Biden said.
The numbers reflect the perilous state of the recovery just weeks before the last of the federal unemployment insurance assistance is about to expire at the end of the year, leaving 12 million people without aid as the nation heads into winter. It could be worse for women who, without the aid laid out in the first coronavirus stimulus package, won’t be able to claim unemployment to care for their children, for example.
The initial bill tried to bandage some of the issues women were experiencing after the child care safety net dissolved this year by allowing them to claim assistance in the case that they had left their job to care for children at home. That ends December 26.
The deadline is reviving conversations around an additional round of stimulus.
Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer endorsed a $908 billion aid package — a far slimmed-down version of the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act House Democrats passed in the summer — indicating a desire to reach a consensus with Senate Republicans, who have been pushing for about $500 billion in aid instead.
Without help, it’s people of color who are expected to struggle most.
Take the unemployment rate: The figure for White women fell to 5.4 percent in November, but for Black women it remained at 9 percent. For Latinas, the unemployment dropped from 9 percent in October to 8.2 percent in November. For Asian women, the figure was 7.3 percent last month.
And the unemployment rate overall is an incomplete figure because it doesn’t take into account workers who are temporarily unemployed or who are out of work and not currently seeking employment.
So even with the gains made throughout the year, the U.S. workforce is still down 9.8 million jobs from the start of the pandemic. Women account for nearly 54 percent of those losses.
Biden outlined some of those disparities Friday, urging Democrats, Republicans and President Donald Trump to come to a deal. But it likely won’t be enough given the scope of the downturn, he said, and his administration has pledged to come in with additional relief when he takes office January 20.
“Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris and I are working on the plan we will put forward for the next Congress to move fast and control the pandemic, revive the economy, and build back better than before,” Biden said. “And, we hope to see the same kind of spirit of bipartisan cooperation as we are seeing today.”