As unemployment eased over the past year, women gained fewer jobs than men did (985,000 to 1.09 million for men). At the same time, the retail industry — traditionally a women-dominated job sector — suffered the most acute job losses in the economy, according to an analysis of the U.S. Labor Department’s December employment report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
In fact, women "shouldered the entirety of the job losses" in retail between November 2016 and November 2017, while men actually gained jobs in the industry, according to the report. Women’s share of all retail trade jobs fell from 50.4% to 49.6% during a time when, overall, the retail trade in general suffered the greatest job losses over the last year, according to the IWPR research.
The stark differences are fairly broad across the industry, but there were some variations among retail segments, according to the report. Women lost jobs in apparel and accessories stores, while men saw losses in food and beverage stores and sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores. Both men and women gained jobs in e-commerce retailers, motor vehicle and parts dealers, and building material and garden supply stores.
The retail employment picture described by the IWPR — where gender differences emerge even before the past decade's economic downturn and continue into last year, mostly to the detriment of women — is pretty clear.
Men’s retail employment declines preceded women’s before the Great Recession, but during the recovery men’s job gains saw traction before women’s did, the researchers found. The more recent retail declines also show women bearing the brunt of retail job cuts. Women sustained losses over the last year — the longest stretch of job losses in the industry for women or men since the Great Recession — while men have continued to gain retail jobs, according to the report.
What isn't clear is the reason or the cause, according to IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, who is an economist.
It could be that women are moving on in greater numbers from lower-paying retail jobs to more lucrative fields, that men are more likely to be in higher-paying retail fields (like auto and appliance sales) — or that women are shouldering retail's current reset, Hartmann said in a statement.
"We do not know very much about what is driving this trend," she said. But figuring it out has "profound consequences for the vast majority of American families that rely on women’s earnings and for the future of the U.S. economy."
"We’ve seen many news reports of the decline in retail jobs, but few have noted that the picture in retail is much different for women and men," she also said. "The majority of the losses in retail comes from general merchandising stores, where men have actually gained jobs."