Big winners right now in the job market: older white women

The unemployment rate for adult white women fell to 6.8 percent in January. Other statistics indicate that women over age 55 are faring well in the job market.

By , Staff writer

As the job market stabilizes, who is being hired back first?

The answer: older white women.

In January, more women over age 55, who probably have some college education, said they got jobs than any other group.

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Yes, think about an army of possible first-time grandmothers getting paychecks.

The unemployment rate for adult white women fell to 6.8 percent in January, down 0.6 percentage points from December, according to a report Friday from the Labor Department.

A decline in the unemployment rate for all women, regardless of race, was a key reason that the unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in January.

“Just as men have been disproportionately hit by the downturn, there has been a disproportionate improvement for women, especially white women,” says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Unemployment for white women has been falling since the fall of 2009, when it was 7.4 percent. Currently, unemployment among all women is at 8.4 percent.

By way of comparison, white adult males had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent last month, down from a peak of 9.9 percent last fall. Industries that tend to hire white men, such as construction and manufacturing, have been suffering.

According to the Labor Department, out of the 541,000 people who said they found work last month, 178,000 were over age 55. Of that group, 140,000 were women – 26 percent of all the hires that month.

Part of the reason appears to be related to who is hiring. Jobs have opened up in temporary and retail positions. For some time, there have been job openings in healthcare, education, and government.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of the job growth in the last couple of months in positions traditionally held by women,” says John Canally, an economist at LPL Financial in Boston.

Mr. Canally wonders if some of the pickup in white female employment is related to husbands losing their jobs or taking jobs that pay less money.

“That may be forcing a lot of wives to go back to work,” he says.

Mr. Baker, who wrote Friday about the trend of white women getting hired, says that most of the women getting jobs are “baby boomers” who tend to be more educated. “Some may be doing it out of necessity. Some maybe don’t have healthcare and need the coverage,” he says.

Unfortunately, the hiring did not spread to black women. The unemployment rate for black women increased from 13.1 percent in December to 13.3 percent in January.

Part of the reason, Baker says, might be because of some bad regional economies, such as in Michigan or California, where minorities have been losing jobs because of cutbacks in autos or the municipal sector.

This is a reversal of a longstanding trend in which more black women worked then white women.

The situation was even worse for black men, whose unemployment rate rose last month to 17.6 percent, up from 16.6 percent in December. That’s the highest level so far, says Baker.

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