Harry Reid links unemployment to rise in domestic abuse

Men's groups are demanding an apology after Harry Reid's comments linking a rise in unemployment with a rise in domestic abuse. But some studies support the Senate majority leader's claims.

Harry Hamburg/AP
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gestures as he takes a call in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday. Senator Reid took heat from men's groups, Tuesday, after linking a rise in unemployment with a rise in domestic abuse.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid stated during a procedural vote Monday night that the Senate’s jobs bill could do more than help people get back to work. It could bring down the rate of domestic violence.

“I met with some people while I was home dealing with domestic abuse. It has gotten out of hand,” Senator Reid reportedly said on the Senate floor. “Why? Men don’t
have jobs…. Men, when they’re out of work, tend to become abusive.

Even though women are losing jobs as well, “women aren't abusive, most of the time,” Reid added. "Men, when they're out of work, tend
to become abusive.”

Men’s groups are demanding an apology for what they call “sexist” remarks. And political commentators of both stripes have had mixed reactions to Reid’s comments.

“If passing a jobs bill is needed to rescue women (and men) in distress, then why didn’t this moron and his caucus get to work on it earlier instead of focusing on ObamaCare to the exclusion of all else?” wrote Allahpundit at

To go after Reid, however, is a “tempest in a tea pot” according to Sherry Jeffe, a political scientist at the University of Southern California. “People are arguing about semantics
so they don’t have to argue about policy.”

And Jessica Levinson, political reform director of the Center for Governmental Studies, says, “It’s an awful situation when our legislative leaders have to sell a jobs package by saying it will reduce the incidence of men beating women.”

But is Reid correct?

While the study refrains from drawing comprehensive conclusions about all men, unemployment is definitely a significant risk factor – along with poverty and a low level of educational attainment – an extensive 2004 report by the National Institute of Justice found. The report found that the rate of violence against women increases as male unemployment increases. When
a woman's male partner is employed, the rate of violence is 4.7 percent. It’s 7.5 percent when the male experiences one period of unemployment. It’s 12.3
percent when the male experiences two or more periods of unemployment.

Women who lose their jobs are also more at risk for abuse. A lack of money is a common reason why a female victim may refuse to leave an abusive partner, according to the National Coalition Against
Domestic Violence.

And James Fox, criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, says that when men lose their jobs, they lose self esteem and money – but also emotional support.

“Females are more
likely to have friends outside work, whereas men tend to have friendships on the job,” says Professor Fox. “Men rarely have friends outside work connections, and when
they lose their job, they lose all the people that were around them. They feel abandoned.”

The Boston Globe reported in December 2008 that “domestic violence programs report that victims experience an increase in abuse in part because out-of-work
abusers have more opportunity to batter.”

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to be a larger problem for men than it is for women. Last year, the recession was dubbed the “mancession” by some, because
men were more likely to be employed in the industries taking the biggest hit in the recession, such as manufacturing and construction.

Department of Labor statistics
show that in January, while the rate of unemployment for adult men remained at 10 percent, the jobless rate for adult women fell to 7.9 percent.

• Staff writer Gloria Goodale contributed to this report.

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