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Recession toll hardest on Hawaii’s male workers

‘Man-cession’ seen in other states too

March 14, 2010
By DAN NAKASAO, The Honolulu Advertiser

The number of unemployed men in Hawaii far outpaced women for most of 2009 as America's struggling economy continues to see more male victims of what's been labeled a "man-cession."

Like the Mainland, Hawaii has seen job cuts in traditional male-dominated industries such as construction, leading laborers like Bob Elhoff, of Punchbowl, to continue to search for work at the age of 53.

"I'm looking for any kind of labor job," said Elhoff, who hasn't had steady employment since July. "But there aren't a lot of jobs to begin with."

As far back as the early 1900s, women have traditionally been a critical part of Hawaii's labor force as they worked alongside men in sugar and pineapple fields and their affiliated operations, said Lawrence Boyd, a labor economist at the University of HawaiiWest Oahu.

The number of unemployed men began to significantly outpace women as Hawaii's boom-and-bust construction cycle dipped in the late 1970s and again in the 1990s, Boyd said.

In 1999, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported that men represented 64.1 percent of all people filing unemployment claims.

The percentage of male unemployment claims then dropped below 60 percent between 2001 and 2003 before creeping up again in 2004.

"There's no question that in this particular recession men have been laid off far more than women because they tend to dominate the industries that have been hard hit across the country, construction and manufacturing," Boyd said. "This recession - and the fiscal crisis that accompanied it - primarily affected industries that had a higher proportion of males in it."

Mark Perry, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan, is credited with coining the term "man-cession" to describe the ongoing, disproportionate loss of jobs by male American workers.

According to data released earlier this month from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held slightly more jobs across the country in February, March, November, December and again in January.

In Hawaii, thousands more men filed unemployment claims for every month between January and August 2009, according to preliminary data for the first three quarters of 2009 from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Men represented at least 60 percent of all unemployment claims for every month of 2009, according to data that the labor department has analyzed so far.

In June, when men represented 64 percent of all unemployment claims in Hawaii, commercial boat captain Chris Allen suddenly found himself out of a job.

In his industry "it's still pretty much men," said Allen, 33, of Makiki.

He loved his job as the captain of one of the city's two short-lived, commuter ferry boats that sailed every morning and afternoon between Kalaeloa Harbor and Aloha Tower in an operation called TheBoat.

Since the project went under, Allen's been relying on the income from his wife, Marissa, a registered nurse in a field traditionally dominated by women.

"Thank God," Allen said, as he applied for an extension of his unemployment benefits at the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Punchbowl Street offices.

He's been calling his male friends in Hawaii's commercial boating industry looking for work, without any luck.

"If it wasn't for my wife," Allen said, "I'd be going nuts. I'm looking for work like crazy."

While women are holding onto their jobs, they still get paid less than men on average. Women of all education levels earn 78 percent of what men are paid on average nationwide, according to a report by AAUW, a women's education and equity advocacy organization.

The report, which came out last April, ranked Hawaii No. 2 in the nation when it comes to the narrowest wage gap between college-educated men and women.

In a state-by-state comparison of the college-educated, year-round work force, the narrowest wage gap existed in Vermont, where female full-time workers make 87 percent as much as their male counterparts.

Hawaii was second at 83 percent - or $58,700 for men to $49,000 for women.

Beth Busch, who puts on the state's largest job fairs as the president of Success Advertising Hawaii, believes the loss of male jobs coincides with more education and training among Hawaii's female employees.

"Overall, we're seeing more and more women getting more degrees and there are certainly more women CEOs," she said.

As the recession plods along, it's now common to see unemployed men relying financially on their working wives, Busch said.

"It's definitely becoming more ordinary and people are learning how to deal with that," she said.

But not every out-of-work man adjusts easily to relying on a woman's salary, she said.

Some employers Busch works with at her job fairs are reporting heavier reliance on employee assistance programs for men struggling with issues such as substance abuse connected to losing their jobs, she said.

"There is definitely more stress for men," Busch said. "On the Mainland, male support groups are being formed so they can get together and chat about their issues while their wives are out working."

The good news is that Busch expects to see more employers looking to hire at the WorkForce Job Fair on May 19 at the Neal Blaisdell Center.

The bad news is that she expects as many as 6,000 people to show up looking for jobs.

"And there are no big clients in construction," Busch said. "So far, nobody is making any noise about hiring large numbers for male-dominated industries."



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