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Mitch Daniels' SOTU Response: No Mention of American Women of Prime Working Age

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Mitch Daniels' remarks following President Obama's State of the Union speech didn't mention women even once.

We can assume his language was intentional, as national speeches are vetted and reviewed by scores of partisan supporters.

Here's a section from Daniels' speech I found unnecessarily exclusionary:

. . . the percentage of Americans with a job is at the lowest in decades. One in five men of prime working age, and nearly half of all persons under 30, did not go to work today.

What about women of prime working age? Or those who are younger ... or older?

As Daniels, his staff and reviewers must know, the Great Recession has had considerably different impacts on male and female workers.

While the economic downturn was initially nicknamed the "Mancession" because of its disproportionate impact on men who lost far more jobs than women, recent research and news -- information no savvy politician or staff person could miss -- make it clear that women's re-entry into the workplace has been far slower then men's.

A July 2011 study from the Pew Research Center reported:

The sluggish recovery from the Great Recession has been better for men than for women. From the end of the recession in June 2009 through May 2011, men gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment rate by 1.1 percent. Women, by contrast, lost 218,000 jobs during the same period, and their unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 8.5 percent ...

These post-recession employment trends are a sharp turnabout from the gender patterns that prevailed during the recession itself, when men lost more than twice as many jobs as women. Men accounted for 5.4 million, or 71 percent, of the 7.5 million jobs that disappeared from the U.S. economy from December 2007 through June 2009.

Interestingly, the Pew report documents that this is the first recession since 1970 that men and women haven't bounced back in tandem. According to Pew:

From a gender perspective, the recovery from the Great Recession has defied modern norms. Women fared better than men in the first two years of all other economic recoveries since 1970. Both women and men gained jobs, with women doing so at a faster rate, immediately after the recessions in 1969-70, 1973-75, 1980-82 and 1990-91.

In early January 2012, when the speech-writing machines for both Obama and Daniels would have been operating at full speed, more gender-related jobs news appeared -- a January 7 front-page story in the New York Times and a January 6 post on the Washington Post On Small Business blog.

Both articles refer to an Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) analysis of December 2011 jobs data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. IWPR found "equal job growth for women and men in the last quarter of 2011" -- a turn-around that both Democrats and Republicans should want to champion.

Women's employment now appears to be rising. In December, women gained 89,000 jobs, while men gained 111,000. The revised numbers for October and November show 117,000 new jobs for women since September compared with 95,000 for men. The equality in job growth in the past three months for men and women (206,000 for each) is good news for women, since their job growth has substantially lagged behind men's for most of the recovery.

The IWPR report underscores the deeper unemployment trench from which women workers must climb:

In the last year, from December 2010 to December 2011, of the 1.6 million jobs added to payrolls, only 521,000 or 32 percent were filled by women whereas 1,119,000 or 68 percent were filled by men. Despite progress in the last quarter, the gap between women's and men's employment in December remains at 1.5 million.

IWPR attributes women's greater job loss and slower re-employment rates in part to the fact that women hold a greater share of state and local government jobs, many of which were cut during the recession.

While private sector employment grew by 1.9 million workers from December 2010 to December 2011, 280,000 government jobs were lost. This difference in job growth across sectors disproportionately affects women who represent 57 percent of workers in the public sector compared with 48 percent in the private sector.

Overall, a key take-away from IWPR's research is this dismal statistic:

Women have regained about one out of four (23 percent) of the total jobs they lost in the recession while men have gained more than one out of three (34 percent).

Clearly, when looking at the jobs profile for the American economy, it makes sense to use a gender lens, to understand the different employment experiences and outcomes of our nation's men and women.

That Mitch Daniels and his speechwriters chose to focus only on "Americans" and "men of prime working age" means they intentionally chose not to focus on women workers -- and, quite possibly, sidestepped discussion of the policies and programs that support women -- child care, paid family leave, paid sick leave, part-time work, equal pay, and a healthy government sector.

I'm not surprised, but I am disheartened.

For all of Mitch Daniels' lofty talk about the "language of unity" and a "program of renewal that rebuilds the dream for all," it sure would have been nice to hear what he might do for American women of prime working age.