By Allison Linn

The Great Recession of 2007-09 included job losses that were so much greater for men than for women that some dubbed it the “mancession.”

But once the nation went into recovery – meaning the economy was expanding again, albeit slowly – men saw much stronger job gains than women. In fact women actually lost jobs in the first two years of the recovery, while men gained ground, according to a  Pew Research Center report.

Now there is evidence that the trend is evening out. Over the past few months researchers have started to see women gain jobs at a pace that is roughly on par with men.

In the last three months of the year, men and women each gained about 206,000 jobs, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“That’s definitely a new development,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which has been analyzing employment data by gender.

The job gains in the final months of 2011 were strong enough to offset the losses suffered in the earlier part of the recession. In December, about 43,000 more women were employed than when the recession ended in June 2009, according to the BLS.

“Finally, women moved into the black at the end of 2011,” said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economy security at the National Women’s Law Center, which has been closely following women’s employment through the recession and recovery.

Still, Entmacher notes that women have gotten just a tiny portion of the net 1.4 million jobs that have been added since the recession ended.
The unemployment rate for men and women is now roughly even, mainly because the unemployment rate for men has dropped so sharply.

The unemployment rate for women 20 and over was 7.9 percent in December, which Entmacher noted is actually slightly higher than when the recession ended in June 2009.

For men over 20, the unemployment rate was 8 percent, down significantly from 9.8 percent in June 2009.

The news comes as the overall pace of job creation appears to finally be picking up speed. The nation’s employers added about 200,000 jobs in December, according to the BLS, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent.

That’s encouraging, but it does not mean then the nation’s millions of jobseekers can breathe a sigh of relief yet. For a healthy jobs recovery, economists would still want to see much bigger monthly job gains and a lower unemployment rate for both men and women.

“It’s a slow jobs recovery for everybody. That’s disappointing,” Hartmann said. “We’ve seen some improvement in the last half of (the) year … but it’s a long haul.”

Although researchers couldn’t pinpoint a definitive reason for why women didn’t see job gains in the early stages of recovery, many said one cuts in state and local government funding were a likely factor. That led to job losses in sectors such as education and social services, where women are more predominant.

By contrast, she said, male-dominated industries such as manufacturing were among the first to see big job losses in the recession.

“The men’s recession happened earlier and their recovery happened earlier,” Hartmann said. “The women’s recession happened later and their recovery happened later.”