Look at the flip side of the US unemployment picture and a different outlook emerges: Employment is up. Dramatically. Exactly three years into a recovery, the US economy has created nearly 9 million more jobs than it lost, according to the November employment figures released Friday by the Labor Department.
That's a strong economic expansion. Only twice before has the American post-war economy created new jobs at a faster rate during a three-year period.
The recovery ``is extremely strong by recent standards,'' says David Wyss, senior vice-president of Data Resources Inc.
``By comparison with almost any other country, it's a very positive performance,'' says Quinn Mills, business administration professor at the Harvard business school.
In the current recovery, four out of every five of the new jobs are in the service sector, the government reports. This continues a trend set by other post-war recoveries.
And who is getting these new jobs? Women, for the most part. Often, they are relatively young and entering the job market for the first time.
Although in some ways these are encouraging signs for the economy, economists and specialists on women's issues say a couple of problems cloud the horizon.
Job imbalance. The growth in ser-vice jobs and the number of workingJOBSJOBS women has overshadowed the relative stagnation in the male-dominated goods-producing industries. This stagnation has helped prop up the unemployment rate. Compared with similar points in previous recoveries, the November civilian unemployment rate remained relatively high at 7.0 percent, though it was a slight dip from October's 7.1 percent.
Some economists, like Mr. Wyss, doubt that the imbalance between service and industrial employment can continue. ``We've got to turn it around or it's going to wreck the recovery,'' he says.
Other economists, such as Professor Mills, are more sanguine. He says it's possible that the current situation can continue for some time.
For the time being, at least, the long decline in manufacturing employment has leveled off. For October and November, the Labor Department reports slight but insignificant increases.
Unequal jobs. While their share of the workforce has increased, most working women still start at the bottom of the heap.
``When people think of the working woman, they think of the corporate executive with her briefcase and her airline ticket,'' says Winifred Wandersee, associate history professor at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y.
That figure is, however, a misconception, she says. Many more women are involved in low-paying occupations such as health care and food service. ``Those are the people who have to take the Burger King job or the McDonald's [job].''
``They are going into low-paying jobs with zilch opportunities,'' says Arlene Kaplan Daniels, Northwestern University sociology professor and coauthor of a recent book on women and work. ``What it means is that the economy is expanding on their backs.''
Will it improve? For some women, yes.
``I think women have just begun,'' says Charlotte Beers, chief executive officer of Tatham-Laird & Kudner, one of the largest US advertising agencies. Of new account executives coming to her Chicago-based firm, she adds, ``it's a hard thing to keep it 50 percent women. Usually, it runs to 60 percent.''
At the upper echelons of the corporate world, Mrs. Beers says, qualified professional women will fetch salaries comparable to what men make.
But at the lower levels -- where most working women find themselves -- the situation is much different, Professor Daniels says. And it does not appear to be improving very rapidly, even though 50 percent of women now have jobs.
In the last 15 years, pay for women has remained substantially behind that for men.
By 1984, full-time working women only earned two-thirds of what men did. That was only slight progress from the late 1960s.
The pay inequity persists because of the society's expectations of women, Daniels says. This makes it difficult for most of them to progress beyond the bottom and middle rungs of job opportunity.
Professor Mills emphasizes economic factors as the main reasons for low pay in clerical and other female-dominated occupations. ``There's a real excess supply of people in those areas,'' he says, ``and they don't bring a lot of skills to them.''
This pay inequity has given rise to calls for equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation. But so far, there is little progress, Daniels says.
The economy, meanwhile, is not likely to remedy the problem anytime soon, Mills says.
One reason: Many more women are expected to enter the labor force during the next decade and snap up low-pay, low-skill jobs. GRAPH` Women move into the job market... (percentage of women who work) 1967 -- 39.0 1968 -- 39.6 1969 -- 40.7 1970 -- 40.8 1971 -- 40.4 1972 -- 41.0 73 -- 42.0 74 -- 42.6 75 -- 42.0 76 -- 43.2 77 -- 44.5 78 -- 46.4 79 -- 47.5 80 -- 47.7 81 -- 48.0 82 -- 47.7 83 -- 48.0 84 -- 49.5 ...but pay isn't equal (Females' pay as percentage of males' pay) 1967 -- 62.4 68 -- NA 69 -- 60.6 70 -- 62.3 71 -- 61.7 72 -- 63.1 73 -- 61.7 74 -- 60.8 75 -- 62.0 76 -- 62.2 77 -- 61.9 78 -- 61.3 79 -- 62.4 80 -- 63.4 81 -- 64.6 82 -- 65.0 83 -- 65.6 84 -- 67.7 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics