(MoneyWatch) One question regarding the tepid economic recover has been whether men or women are faring better. Last year, for instance, there were reports that 80 percent of the 2.6 million net jobs created since 2009 had gone to men. Then earlier this month a study a study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that women had regained all the jobs they lost in the recession, while men had regained only 73 percent.
So who is really doing better in this unfortunate employment horse race? Neither, really. The reason for the conflicting claims all depend on what you mean by "employment."
If you include full- and part-time jobs, women's overall unemployment rate is lower than men's. In August, 6.8 percent of working-age women were out of work, compared to 7.7 percent of men.
Also, as the IWPR study pointed out, it is true that a record 67.5 million women are working today, up from the prior peak of 67.4 million in early 2008. The report, based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' survey of businesses, also found that 69 million men have jobs, nearly 2 million fewer than during the pre-recession peak of June 2007.
However, you get a much different picture if you look at the BLS' survey of households. That survey, based on reports from families and individuals, finds neither men nor women have made up all the ground they lost during the financial crisis. While the household survey also showed 67.5 million women currently employed, that is 600,000 fewer than the pre-recession peak in April 2008. For men, that survey found 76.9 million have jobs, less than the 79 million who had jobs in June of 2007.
The difference between the two measures is that the business survey only counts people who are working for someone else and misses the self-employed. So while the same number of women are working, it appears there has been an enormous drop in the number of them who are working for themselves.
That, in turn, is mostly because of the type of jobs women have wound up in. All jobs are not created equal, particularly in this case because more women than ever are working in lower-paying, part-time jobs. In terms of the number of women holding full-time jobs, the pre-recession peak was 51.8 million in June 2008, while now 50.5 million are working full-time. So while the total number of women employed is the same, more than a million more are working part-time today than in 2008.
A study by the National Women's Law Center found that between 2009 and 2013, about 60 percent of the jobs women were hired for paid less than $10.10 an hour. Men who made that little constituted only 20 percent of the total.
The other important thing to note in all this is that even if the same number of men and women were working today as were at their pre-recession peaks, there would still be a significant employment problem in the U.S. The economy has not been producing enough jobs to keep up with the number of people entering the work force each year. The reason the unemployment rate is as low as it is is because of the large number of people who have stopped looking for work.
According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, the economy would have needed to add about 90,000 jobs a month to keep up with the increase in the population since 2007. Based on this figure, the U.S. would have needed to add 8 million more jobs to provide for the number of people joining the workforce in the last six years.