Thomas Wagner received an Emmy Award nomination for his work as a music composer in 2005, but today he just can’t find a job. He’s one of millions of men whose performance in the recovering job market is lagging behind women.
“I have experience,” Wagner said. “I hired people, sometimes I fired people. But I don’t have a job with another company that shows that experience. It’s a difficult thing.”
Wagner, 63, was among a crowd of job seekers attending a coaching session at a New York Public Library branch on Madison Avenue last week. Out of the nearly 70 attendees, about two thirds were men, mostly in their 40s and 50s. Wagner’s story was typical. He has been looking for a job for six months, sending applications to a dozen companies, but so far without success.

Nearly five years after the recession, the labor market has improved, with the unemployment rate dropping to 6.6 percent in January from a historic peak of 10 percent in October 2009. But men, who often work in the industries hardest hit by the recession, still find themselves struggling to get a job. Women, on the other hand, have enjoyed better luck.
Danielle Schwartz has just found a new job as a weekend nanny after her previous position at a nursery school. It is a part-time job, but she is excited – it pays $500 for two days of work.
In her 10 years working in early childhood education as a nanny, lead teacher, or a tutor, Schwartz has never had a male co-worker.
“I wouldn’t think that a man would automatically not be hired in this field,” the nanny in La Vergne, Tennessee, said in an email.
“But I do think that if he was, he would be looked at differently, by parents at least, which is awful to say… I definitely think a career like this has ingrained stereotypes all over it – you must have so much patience.”
Among adult women, the Labor Department’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate hovered at 5.9 percent in January while the rate for men stood at 6.2 percent.
Before the recession, men and women had relatively equal unemployment rate, said Peter Mueser, Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri. But since then, a persistent gap has remained.
Mueser, whose researches concentrate on the labor market’s gender and ethnic issues, said industries with predominately male workforces are often more vulnerable to cyclical recessions.
“The industries that are the most responsive to the recession are the durable goods industry, like cars or refrigerators,” Mueser said in a phone interview. “When times get bad, people simply skip a car for two or three years. They can buy less food but they can’t delay eating food for a few years like delaying buying a new car.”
The unemployment rate also increases more among men than women because men dominate construction and manufacturing industries, said Gianluca Violante, an economist at New York University.
“These, during downturns, have been the sectors that bore most of the aggregate job losses,” he said.
The U.S. economy lost more than 2.5 million jobs in manufacturing between 2007 and 2010, according to The Department of Labor. Since then, only about 500,000 of those jobs have returned. Similarly, the construction sector lost more than 1.8 million jobs since 2007.
Just 1 percent of American adult women work in construction while 12 percent of men do, according to a research by Mueser, the University of Missouri professor. By contrast, female employees outnumber male in industries like healthcare services, education and social services.
Despite the recession, the total jobs in education and health services increased by 15.6 percent to over the last seven years, according to Department of Labor statistics.
The economy’s unstable recovery has made it more difficult to the job seekers. The job growth in December and January lagged far behind expectations.
Job seekers at the training session said competition for work has been fierce, from both new graduates and experienced employees.
“I have had a couple of interviews but they didn’t go well,” said Larry J., an unemployed 56-year-old who withheld his last name. Larry lost his job as an accountant half a year ago and has been seeking a job for four months.
“It’s difficult. I’ll spend another couple of months to see what’s out there, in accounting, finance, stuff like that. If I can’t find something there, I’ll look elsewhere and take anything… I mean I have to pay the bills.”
This downturn saw more lay-offs of older workers than in past recessions and it takes these older people longer to get a new job, said Mueser. This can lead to an endless cycle of difficulties.
The gap between men and women’s unemployment rate will not narrow soon, but it will not be as strong as the past few years, he Mueser. The economy’s recovery will determine this trend.
“I believe when the economy improves, the difference will decline,” Mueser said. “It will become much smaller.”