Labor market reduces gender and race employment gaps

Last month, the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.7 percent for the third month in a row. A historically tight job market is a major boon for the U.S. economy, but it’s creating hiring problems for employers.

In fact, as of June, the number of job openings outnumbered the number of unemployed Americans by the widest margin ever. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were approximately 1.62 million more open jobs than unemployed citizens in the nation in June. 

This tightness is creating new employment opportunities for women, who are generally less represented than men in the workforce. According to the Labor Department, the share of women between the ages of 25 and 54 looking for a job jumped a whole percentage point, climbing to 76.3 percent last month.

The labor participation rate for women is now 12.7 percentage points lower than men — still a significant margin, but its lowest point since 1950, nonetheless. Part of this can also be attributed to the growth in more female-dominated industries, according to Toni Davis, the program director of Phoenix-based nonprofit A New Leaf

“One of the things that we’re seeing is the different industries that are opening up. For example, health care — even when you look at the jobs reported last month, health care added 24,000 jobs over that month, which is a field that is usually predominantly female,” Davis said. “If you think about who goes into the health care industry, that is one of our fields that we see a lot of females going into.”

Male-centric industries such as construction, production, and mining also shrunk or remained the same in last month’s job report, Davis notes. As brick-and-mortar construction ramps down, this may continue to diminish the gap between men’s and women’s participation rates, she said.

As of last month, women also comprise more than half of the college-educated workforce for the first time in history. And as women get more opportunities from employers, this share may only rise, for women have commanded the majority of the enrolled undergraduate population since 2000. 

“Now, what they’re saying about this tight labor market is that women have increasingly more college degrees, and that’s going to have an impact. That’s increasingly a factor because people do want people that have that extra education for a lot of kinds of roles,” said Paula Klempay, director of MBA career management at the University of Arizona. “In the MBA world, the amount of experience you have and the type of experience you have is profoundly influential.”

The labor market is creating new opportunities for racial groups that tend to be underrepresented in the workforce, as well. The same report found that the unemployment rate for African Americans fell to a record low of 5.5 percent. This represents roughly 1.6 times the unemployment rate of caucasians, its lowest gap ever. 

If the economy faces turbulence, the state of the gender and race employment gaps is uncertain. Davis believes that a continued emphasis on education — specifically in STEM fields — will create more opportunities downstream for women. 

Ben Norman

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