Recession has hit women, especially single moms, hard

NEW YORK -- They've called it the "Mancession": a recession that has disproportionately affected men, because of its brutal impact on male-dominated sectors like construction and manufacturing.

But that term rings hollow to women like Sara Wade, an Illinois schoolteacher who became the sole supporter of two school-age children -- possibly for good, she fears -- when her ex-husband, a carpenter and contractor, stopped paying child support 15 months ago.

Or to Martha Gonzalez, a divorced mother of three in Brownsville who had to take a second, part-time job when her work in real estate became scarcer. She lost her benefits, too, and for the first time in her adult working life, has no health insurance.

Or to Angela Grice, the single mom of a 3-year-old son, who works two low-paying, part-time jobs while she tries to get an accounting degree that will lead to some stability for her and her son.

Concerned about women like these, a congressional committee has issued a report, timed for Mother's Day, outlining the adverse effect the recession has had on working women, especially single moms.

A copy was provided to The Associated Press ahead of its Monday release.

The report, by the Joint Economic Committee, finds that while during the bulk of the recession, job losses were overwhelmingly male, the trend began to reverse as the economy edged toward recovery.

"As job losses slowed in the final months of 2009, women continued to lose jobs as men found employment," says the report, based on the committee's analysis of unpublished data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Specifically, from October to March, women lost 22,000 jobs while men gained 260,000, it says.

"And April's strong employment growth showed women gained 86,000 jobs last month, far fewer than the 204,000 jobs gained by men," it says.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the committee, noted that the findings are especially dire for single mothers. Their unemployment rate went from 8 percent to 13 percent between 2007 and 2009.

"Women are losing more jobs, yet families are more dependent on their earnings," she said in an interview.

In all, one-third of jobs lost during the Great Recession belonged to women, Maloney notes. That's striking, she says, because in earlier recessions the percentage was much lower. Women accounted for 15 percent of job losses in the 2001 recession, for example.

But even women who've been able to hold onto their jobs have found the economic sands shifting beneath them in ways they never anticipated.

Wade counts herself among the luckier ones. As an eighth-grade English teacher in Skokie for 16 years, she has tenure and seniority.

Her husband, whom she divorced in 2004, is a carpenter and contractor, "just the kind of job they mean when they call it a 'Mancession,'" she says. But the term seems meaningless because the impact of his job troubles has put her in a risky position she never imagined: the sole source of support for their 8-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl.

Wade has had no child support since January 2009, and bought a home with the help of her family.

"I can't imagine what I'd be living in if they hadn't helped me out," she says. She's also worried about a potential pay freeze at her school. "It's scary," she says. "I'm the sole provider, and I could be stuck here at this level." She reluctantly assumes that she'll have to support her kids through college on her own.

There are many like Wade, and they're in a precarious position, says her district's congresswoman, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. "If a person like her loses her job, she is in deep trouble," says Schakowsky, chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, who also spoke to the AP about the report. "The house will probably follow."

In earlier times, women served as a buffer during recessions. If the husband lost his job, the wife could serve as a backup provider. The frightening thing for women who are the sole breadwinners is that there's no backup plan, says Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., a fellow Women's Caucus member.

"We have no safety net for these women," Moore says. "Eight million women are the sole breadwinners in their family, and public policy needs to be a little more empathetic to this. Because when a woman loses her job, the whole family falls off a huge cliff."

Another problem for working women is what the report terms the "part-time penalty," meaning that those in part-time work often earn far less for the same amount of work than their full-time counterparts.

Part-time also means more expensive child-care per hour (it can be hard to find part-time child care), less seniority at work and fewer, if any, benefits.

That's what Gonzalez has learned. Happily working full time in real estate sales and leasing, with a salary and benefits, she was forced to switch to contract work when her company made cutbacks. She took a second job, working afternoons and early evenings as a receptionist.

"I'm making it," she says, but she has no health insurance -- at 57, it's something she hasn't experienced before. Asked what she would do if something catastrophic happened, she says, "I don't want to think about that."