November 29, 2023

Economix: Unemployment’s Rising Toll on Families

Last year, nearly one in eight families included an unemployed person, the highest proportion since the Labor Department began keeping track in 1994.


Of all families, 12.4 percent included an unemployed person, up from 12 percent in 2009, the department observed in a recent report. (Since this data set goes back to only 1994, though, we can’t compare how this trend compares to the last major recession, in the early 1980s, when unemployment was generally more widespread throughout the population. As my colleague David Leonhardt has noted, other measures have shown unemployment in this recession  to be unusually concentrated within a small group of workers.)

The report also included updates on how the labor market is affecting family dynamics and gender roles.

We’ve noted in the past, for example, that the recession was causing more women to serve as their families’ sole breadwinners. That trend continued last year: Of all families — that is, “a group of two or more persons residing together who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption” — 14.2 percent had only a female adult member (the wife or single mother) employed. That’s up from 14 percent in 2009.

The trend may be reversing now, though. During the recession, men disproportionately bore the brunt of job losses; in the feeble recovery, men have disproportionately claimed job gains. As a result, in the last year the share of men with jobs has risen and the share of women with jobs has fallen. In fact, the portion of women working declined to 53.2 percent in February, the lowest share since 1988.

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