WASHINGTON — The early stages of the economic recovery have taken on a decidedly masculine tone.
It was job gains by men that fueled January's steep decline in the national unemployment rate from 9.4 percent to 9 percent.
In fact, men have gained 438,000 jobs since the recession officially ended in June 2009, while women have lost 366,000 over the same period, according to Labor Department figures.
And the 984,000 new jobs created from January 2010 to January 2011? Only 47,000 went to women.
That's less than 1 of every 20 new job openings.
These numbers would barely draw a second look in the aftermath of past recessions, when women made up a much smaller share of the labor force. But women now account for nearly half of all U.S. workers, so the great disparity is all the more startling.
The trend has given a new gender-specific meaning to the phrase "jobless recovery" and is further proof that the hiring rebound isn't reaching all groups.
"The improvements in the overall employment picture obscure what's happening to women. In fact, women have lost ground since the recovery began," said a recent statement by Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.
More men lost jobs
However, some observers say the one-sided jobs picture is more about economic justice than gender bias.
Men absorbed 7 of 10 job losses during the downturn. Male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, transportation and wholesale trade shed millions of jobs. Even in fields where men weren't a majority of workers, they still got hit harder, said Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group.
So as these and other industries slowly rebound, Boushey said it's hardly a surprise that men have landed more than 95 percent of new jobs in the recovery.
"If I get hit harder than you do, it does make sense that my recovery should be more dramatic. That's just logical," Boushey said. "The way this recession played out, there was this gendered impact across a wide variety of industries, and I think that's what you're seeing coming back."
After largely avoiding much of the job jeopardy that men faced, women are now enduring some belated suffering.
Education, health care and state and local government fueled women's job opportunities during the recession. But because women make up nearly 60 percent of government workers, they've felt the brunt of recent layoffs at the state and local level.
During the past year, women lost 202,000 government jobs, or 4 out of 5 that were eliminated nationwide.
"A lot of teachers were laid off. A lot of child care workers were laid off. A lot of local-administrator types were laid off. Those are disproportionately women's jobs," Boushey said.
As protests over state budget cuts continue in Wisconsin, other states such as Iowa and Ohio are pondering similar measures that could affect mostly women.
"If states and localities are forced to make additional cuts in critical public services, women may fall even further behind," said Campbell, of the National Women's Law Center.
Even in the service sector, where women are overrepresented, only 99,000 new jobs went to women over the last year, while nearly 800,000, or 8 out of 9 new openings, went to men.
In retail trade, women have lost 59,000 jobs since last year, while men grabbed 147,000 new jobs.
Frances Serdjuk, of Bayside, N.Y., was one of more than a dozen female administrative staffers laid off from a New York law firm in July.
"They only laid off women. They didn't lay off any men. In fact, a male secretary whose boss had retired, they kept him to work for my boss who was laying me off," Serdjuk said. "I didn't cry, but I was very, very angry."
A paralegal by training, Serdjuk, 61, has been unable to find work, relying instead on unemployment insurance and her husband's paycheck. She said her experience, and the national hiring gap between men and women, probably reflects a cultural bias about men's traditional role as breadwinner.
"These companies would rather lay off a woman whose husband is working than a man who's a sole provider," Serdjuk said. "I always felt like I was perceived as having a working husband, and throughout my working career, I've heard that remark."
Stacy Ethun, the president and CEO of MRINetwork, an international executive search firm, said she's noticed two things that work against job-seeking women: a lack of aggressiveness and limited use of professional networking options.
"Those are the two areas where women are lagging, and it's impacting their eligibility for employment," Ethun said. "Having the courage and conviction to get out there, call on people that you don't know personally, brag on yourself and compete for a job, those are all things, I think, that men in general are naturally stronger at than women."
Ethun said her view isn't true for all women, and she acknowledged that her opinion might conjure up long-held stereotypes about women in the workplace. But after years of seeking top corporate prospects for a number of large companies, she stands by it.
She said men dominate LinkedIn, a popular business-oriented networking website.
"Women tend to network extremely well with friends and family and other women," Ethun said. "They do not do, I feel, as good of a job networking professionally. I think men are very good at that. And finding a job is all about networking."