It’s been some 65 or 70 years since the United States has dealt with an economic recession as deep and slow to recover as the one we’re experiencing now. The last time was before World War II. Men dominated the workforce and the options for women were limited at best.
Today, men dominate the unemployment lines and women fill nearly 50 percent of the workforce.
In what is now being referred to as the Great Mancession, men made up 60 percent of the national share of unemployment in March 2009. In Montana, that number topped 74 percent, meaning that men are three times more likely to be receiving unemployment benefits than women. The unemployment rate gap between men and women is about 4.5 percent in the state of Montana — double the national average.
Just four years ago, men and women held equal rank in the 4.7 percent unemployment rate, but that was before the housing market crash drastically affected male-dominated industries such as construction, transportation, utilities, logging, mining, energy and manufacturing.
Wendy Stock, professor of economics and department head of both Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University, said men account for more than 80 percent of workers in these hard-hit industries in the state of Montana.
The shuttering of Smurfit-Stone, some Plum Creek plants and Columbia Falls Aluminum Company has caused double-digit unemployment rates here in Flathead County.
The male layoffs have brought the gender balance within the workforce to a nearly 50/50 split, a bittersweet gain for feminists.
“We do expect [the unemployment rate] gap to narrow,” Stock said.
Stock was one of a dozen economists from the University of Montana and Montana State University to address Flathead Valley residents Friday at the 35th annual Economic Outlook Seminar hosted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research of the University of Montana School of Business Administration. The seminar will be presented in nine cities. The tour began January 22 and will end March 17.
Paul Polzin, professor emeritus in the University of Montana School of Business Administration’s Management Department, called Flathead County the epicenter of the recession in Montana.
Prior to the downturn, Kalispell was encroaching on Missoula’s retail growth rate. But between March 2008 and March 2009, employment plummeted 11.1 percent, to take honors as the worst in the state. The largest factor in that change was the 37.4 percent decline within construction.
“We have nothing good to say about construction. We don’t see any growth before 2011,” Polzin maintained.
Although it may be hard to see here in the valley, job loss bottomed out in the first quarter of 2009 and a slow recovery has begun.
“We’ve been through one of the deepest recessions in a long time, but we believe the worst is solidly behind us,” said Patrick Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “The story is really recovery.”
Barkey warned that while the crisis seems to have passed, some of the problems that led to the downturn have yet to be solved. Because of this, economists tend to be pessimistic on recovery speed, projecting only a 2.4 percent rate for growth. In Flathead County, that amounts to at least three more years before we see labor income regain its 2007 peak. Employment will take even longer to rebound.
“The last three years we’ve been too optimistic,” Barkey said when asked about why previous economic forecasts showing turnaround during this year have proved to be untrue.
Barkey blames the slow growth on the nearly $17 trillion in household assets that were obliterated as the mild-starting recession nose-dived. The massive loss is slowing the recovery.
That said, comparisons between how governments responded to the Japanese economic failure in the 1990s and the United States’ current recession are heartening. It took Japanese officials some six years to change monetary policy following their stock market crash. Conversely, U.S. politicians responded within six months to greatly lessen the damaging effect the crisis could have had on the nation.