Have you heard the latest buzz? Some writers and commentators are now calling the recession a “he-cession.”
The new word, coined somewhere out on the blogosphere, incites fear and trembling in the masses because now the recession is actually affecting, well, men.
Times Online ran a headline: “Women are victors in ‘mancession.'” Women may not feel so victorious while enduring lower wages, shift cuts and job loss plus carrying a heavier share at home. Charlie Gibson touts the “he-cession” on ABC, serving up caricatures of women who just cannot respect their unemployed, apron-wearing Mr. Mom husbands.
Even Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond is falling for the hype. Thurmond released a white paper titled “Georgia Men Hit Hardest by Recession,” in which he asserts that job loss is more devastating to men than to women. This long-held assumption implies that men’s work is important while women’s employment is merely frivolous – perhaps an avenue to get out of the house or to earn a little money for nail polish.
In reality, women’s jobs are extremely important. In fact, 40 percent of women are the sole breadwinners for themselves or their families. Many women value their careers and identify themselves by their profession. Job loss is a major crisis, often on a par with divorce. To pretend that only men are deeply affected is ridiculous and inaccurate.
Worse yet, Thurmond actually uses the term “he-cession” as if it were a real word. Thurmond’s grammar teacher must be rolling in her grave. Surely she taught him about Latin roots. Perhaps she would like to remind him that “recession” consists of the Latin prefix “re” (back) and the root “cedere” (to go), and therefore refers to moving backward. If “he-cession” had any meaning at all, it would mean that “he” is moving on, not backward.
Reading Thurmond’s white paper, something bothers me a lot more than the painful etymology of the newly coined word. If the recession has become a “he-cession” now that the layoffs are skewed toward males – what was it in September 2008 when the data showed women were losing their jobs twice as fast as men?
We never heard dire warnings about a “she-cession.” In fact, the talking heads on TV and the Internet rarely mention women’s unemployment. If they bring up unemployed women at all, it is to utter scathing remarks about “welfare moms.”
The reason men have lost more jobs is that men had more jobs to lose. Seventy-three percent of men were part of the workforce before the recession, compared to less than 60 percent of women. According to the Center for American Progress, 20.6 percent of working-age women were already living in poverty at the outset of the recession, compared to 14 percent of men.
Thus, saying that “the recession hits men harder” is like saying, “The recession hit the rich harder than the poor because the rich are the ones who had money to lose.” Even during the so-called “he-cession,” men still outnumber women in the workforce, and especially in managerial positions.
On average, women who do have jobs are paid 20 percent less than men with the same positions. The fact that women can be paid less for doing the same work actually increases male job losses because cutbacks target higher-paid employees. Women are also more likely to be underemployed, working part-time jobs without health insurance.
There is no new thing called a “he-cession.” The severe economic downturn affects us all. If a quirky new buzzword is needed, maybe “we-cession” would be more appropriate.