Is a She-covery Really in Sight?

Mar 12, 2012Mike Konczal

One key data adjustment makes women's supposed job gains in recent months all but disappear.

New Deal 2.0 editor Bryce Covert had an excellent summary of gender and the recovery over at The Nation, "One Mancession Later, Are Women Really Victors in the New Economy?" Trying to figure out why women's job growth have been lagging in 2010-2011 has been a bit of an industry in the econoblogosphere, and Covert brings together the debate.

But is this changing? David Leonhardt has a post up at Economix, "Has the He-covery Become a She-covery?," which features the following argument and graph:

For nearly all of 2010 and 2011, job growth was stronger for men than for women, causing Catherine Rampell and others to refer to the recovery as a “he-covery.” But in the last few months, the trend has turned around: since December, job growth has been significantly stronger for women than men...

But there's a slight problem with how that data is shown in the graph above. That graph is from the household survey. In the release of the December jobs numbers, there was a big change in the employment numbers as a result of the annual benchmarking process and the updating of seasonal adjustment factors:

Effective with data for January 2012, updated population estimates which reflect the results of Census 2010 have been used in the household survey. Population estimates for the household survey are developed by the U.S. Census Bureau. Each year, the Census Bureau updates the estimates to reflect new information and assumptions about the growth of the population during the decade... In accordance with usual practice, BLS will not revise the official household survey estimates for December 2011 and earlier months... The adjustment increased the estimated size of the civilian noninstitutional population in December by 1,510,000, the civilian labor force by 258,000, employment by 216,000, unemployment by 42,000, and persons not in the labor force by 1,252,000.

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Employment went up 216,000 as a result of these changes, and those extra employed people were all put in the month the changes occurred instead of smoothed across the year ("in accordance with usual practices" above). What it doesn't say is that while employment was adjusted up 216,000, men were adjusted down 368,000 jobs and women were adjusted up 584,000. So December showed women gaining 584,000 jobs as a result of statistical population adjustments that, in reality, should have been smoothed across a longer time frame.

I was happy to see this, as I had spent some time last fall trying to figure out why the household numbers were so different from the business survey when divided out by gender, and this helped bring them back in sync. But this is what is pushing up the six-month average in the graph above, not a sudden rush of actual job growth for women.

Instead of looking at the household survey, a look at the business survey shows that men are always gaining more jobs since the recovery took off:

Mike Konczal is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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