In response to the Obama campaign's aggressive focus on issues that affect women, such as health care, abortion, birth control and equal pay, Mitt Romney's camp has been lobbing back one consistent message: Women care most about the economy, and President Barack Obama's economic policies have failed to put women back to work.
While it is true that women have recovered from the recession much more slowly than men, a new report released by the National Women's Law Center shows that the main economic obstacle holding them back from reemployment is a group of deep public-sector job cuts at the state and local level, mostly implemented by Republican governors.
Three years into the economic recovery, which began in June 2009, women have gained back 24 percent of the jobs they lost, while men have gained back 39 percent. The gap is not in the private sector, where women and men have each gained back about 40 percent of the jobs they lost. Rather, women have lost almost twice as many public sector jobs as men during the past three years -- 396,000 to 231,000, respectively -- which has severely hampered their recovery.
For every 10 private sector jobs women have gained back in the past three years, they've lost four in the public sector. Comparatively, for every 10 private sector jobs men have gained back, they've lost only one in the public sector.
The reason for the gender gap in public sector job losses is that many conservative state and local governments have made massive job cuts to public education, a field that disproportionately employs women.
"Those losses appear to be concentrated in a few states where the budget cutting has focused on public sector jobs, instead of a balanced approach to increasing revenues to try to mitigate job losses," said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at NWLC. "Local education has taken a huge hit, and that's an area that's about 70 percent female."
According to a March report by the Roosevelt Institute, a full 31 percent of the nation's public sector job losses in 2011 were in Texas, despite the fact that it is home to only 8.5 percent of the nation's public employees. Another 40.5 percent of the total cuts were concentrated in the 11 states in which Republicans gained control of state legislatures during the 2010 midterm elections -- Alabama, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
About 9,000 teachers lost their jobs in Pennsylvania over the past year, and close to 7,000 in Ohio. In total, about 250,000 teachers have been laid off across the country since June 2009.
"The leadership in those states are the very people that Mitt Romney has promoted as having the right answer for our country," Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said at a press conference on Wednesday. "That answer for the country is an answer that results in massive layoffs for women and a choke point for women coming out of college and looking for jobs."
Obama proposed a $30 million stimulus package in September to stop teacher layoffs, and he pushed for it again in June, but Congress has yet to take up the proposal. Romney actually mocked Obama's desire to put public employees back to work at a campaign event in June. “He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” Romney said. "It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
The Romney campaign maintains that it is Obama's economic policies that have slowed the economic recovery down for women.
"Women have been getting crushed in this anemic Obama economy and over 400,000 women have lost their jobs since the president took office," said Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign. "Like all Americans, women realize we can't afford four more years of President Obama, and they are looking for a leader like Mitt Romney who knows how to create jobs, balance the budget, and preserve the American dream for our children and grandchildren."