Labor Department: Women Edged Out Men in Payroll Employment in December


Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek January 22, 2020

​Women made up a slightly larger share of nonfarm payroll employment than men in December—the first time in 10 years, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

The ratio for women has been 50.0 percent for the last three months. However, drilling into the figures shows a slight uptick from 49.99 percent in November 2019 to 50.04 percent December 2019. 

The reason for the bump is the growth of job sectors in which women are predominantly employed—such as health care—according to Ariane Hegewisch. She is program director of employment and earnings at the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

"It's not that women are overtaking men in the workforce," she said. The BLS data measures the number of men and women on employers' payroll and does not include those in the workforce who perform contract work or are self-employed, she noted.  

Also, people who hold more than one job are counted twice, such as those with multiple part-time jobs, she said, "and women are more likely than men to work part-time."

But It's not necessarily because women prefer part-time work, she explained. "We often find in the sectors where men work," such as construction, that "when you need to add hours to be performed, you use overtime. In the sectors where women usually work, you may do it by adding part-time workers." 

But while the latest BLS data does not measure labor-force participation, Hegewisch said the finding is signficant. 

"This trend is noteworthy because it's not just a one-month blip," she said. What is more interesting is "this trend of more new jobs on payroll going to women than men … In any case, almost every other worker is a woman."

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Looking at the December data, Elise Gould, senior economist for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), noted it was the first time there has been such an increase since 2010 when the Great Recession shrank the male-dominated construction and manufacturing trades.

Gould wrote on the EPI blog that men fill 77 percent of jobs in construction and manufacturing and women fill 77 percent of jobs in education and health care services. But while construction and manufacturing together increased by 356,000 jobs between 2018 and 2019, she wrote, education and health care services employment increased by 603,000 jobs.

Women continued to hold most of the education and health care services jobs (77.4 percent), and their participation remained the same in other sectors, such as retail and financial services, from October through December, according to the BLS. Women showed incremental gains elsewhere. For example, they filled 24.3 percent of utilities jobs in December versus 24.1 percent in October and November.


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