The recession cost men more jobs than it did women, and more women than men found new jobs during the recovery. Yet, working women remain more economically vulnerable than men and are nearly twice as likely to have high or overwhelming financial stress, concluded two organizations that study the workplace.
Although some economists dubbed the recession the “mancession”—because men’s job losses were more than twice as large as women’s—single and married women report being more vulnerable than men on almost all economic indicators, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“Part of [the reason] is the continued gender gap in wages,” said Jeff Hayes, study director at the institute, which conducts research on women in the workplace and education, among other topics. “Women are more likely than men to be minimum-wage workers. They’re more likely—because they are more often family caretakers—to suffer from work policies that don’t allow for many sick days. Women were more likely than men to have subprime mortgages just before the housing crash, and they tend to have fewer savings than men.”
A June 2013 report by California-based Financial Finesse, which provides financial education to more than 600,000 workers at some 500 organizations, found that although single and married women had regained 86 percent of the total jobs they lost between December 2007 and September 2010 (compared with men, who’d regained 66 percent of their lost jobs), working women were nearly twice as likely as men to report high or overwhelming financial stress.
The Financial Finesse report, Trends in Employee Financial Stress, surveyed 12,000 workers in industries including technology, health care, clerical and construction. Respondents were asked to rate their financial stress as “no stress,” “some stress,” “high stress” or “overwhelming stress.” The report defined employees as under “serious” stress if respondents considered themselves under “high” or “overwhelming” stress.
A September 2011 report from the institute, Women and Men Living on the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession, underscores the Financial Finesse findings: While 61 percent of men reported having enough savings to cover two months of earnings, only 43 percent of women did. And whereas 26 percent of men reported difficulty in paying for monthly utilities, this was true for 39 percent of women.
The report relied on interviews with 2,746 adults between September and November 2010. In examining people’s perceptions of their economic security after the recession, researchers found that 38 percent of single mothers and 34 percent of married mothers have trouble paying for medical care, 80 percent of single and married mothers have cut back on household spending, and 43 percent of single mothers and 42 percent of married mothers have not bought something their children needed.
“On almost every measure of insecurity and hardship, the survey reveals the … recession has visited more hardship on women than it has on men,” the report’s authors wrote. “Women’s lower earnings compared with men’s no doubt contribute to their difficult circumstances. Women seem to have remained in the recession a year and a half after its end and have failed to share in the small gains afforded by the weak jobs recovery.”
Of particular concern, the Financial Finesse report said, were working women between 30 and 44 with children to support and household incomes under $60,000. More than half (53 percent) of these women reported being under serious financial stress. They were also nine times more likely to face high or overwhelming financial stress than men older than 55 with no minor children and household incomes above $100,000.
“Although it may not be surprising that lower-income working mothers would be more financially stressed than highly paid working men with no children, it was astounding to see that those women were nine times more likely to be facing high or overwhelming stress,” said Linda Robertson, senior resident financial planner at Finesse Financial and a lead author of the survey. “This insight can be very beneficial to employers that have a significant proportion of their workforce in this group.”
While unemployment among single mothers is at its lowest level in nearly five years, the Financial Finesse study found that those who do have jobs are among the most financially stressed workers in the nation. The unemployment rate for single mothers fell to 9.9 percent in May from 10.3 percent in April—the first time the rate has been less than 10 percent since December 2008, according to May statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
Although an increasing number of educated single women are having children on their own, “the fact is, most single mothers still only have a high school degree—a lot don’t even have that,” said Sara S. McLanahan, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. Thus, only a small percentage of single mothers earn middle-class or above-middle-class wages.
Darnell Lattal, president and CEO of Atlanta-based workplace consultancy Aubrey Daniels International, said, “The physical conditions most often highly correlated with stress are things such as fatigue, inability to concentrate, withdrawal and depression, nausea, sleeplessness leading to disrupted decision-making, and limited problem-solving abilities.”
“Employers who have a lot of employees in this demographic are probably facing significant costs from the impact of employees’ financial stress—higher health care expenses, drains on productivity and performance, higher turnover, absenteeism and an overall lack of engagement—since they are so focused on surviving financially,” observed Financial Finesse CEO Liz Davidson.
A 2010 Federal Reserve study calculated that employee financial stress costs businesses an average of $5,000 per worker per year in lost productivity.
Employee stress-reduction programs should take into account gender and age differences, advised Marie Apke, chief operating officer at Chicago-based Bensinger, DuPont and Associates, which provides employee assistance programs to about 10 million workers. Managers, she said, should be taught to identify employees who may be experiencing financial stress and how to guide them toward assistance programs.
Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM. To read the original article on SHRM.org, please click here.