Women left work force last month, as men joined it

Zachary Roth
Senior National Affairs Reporter
The Lookout

Here's a quick, fascinating followup to last week's monthly unemployment numbers...

As we reported, one big reason that the national jobless rate dropped in November to 8.6 percent, from 9 percent was that the labor force shrank by 315,000 people, as discouraged workers stopped looking.

But the New York Times notes that what's even more surprising is that the number of men in the workforce actually rose last month, by about 23,000. Meanwhile, the number of women fell by 339,000 (because of rounding, the numbers don't add up to 315,000).

What explains the gender gap? It's worth noting that 58 percent of the women who left the labor force were employed in October - so for them, it wasn't a case of growing discouraged after months of fruitless searching for work. Catherine Rampell of the Times writes: "I would guess that most of them, though, were laid-off workers who had not yet started looking for a new job. After all, state and local governments are shedding workers in large numbers, and most state and local workers are women."

Sounds plausible. And of course, many of those laid-off government workers, especially in big states like California and New York, are teachers, who are even more likely to be women. So that probably plays into it as well.

So far, the downturn has been tougher on men than women. But this data suggests that as government layoffs become an ever bigger part of the jobless picture, that could start to change.