Pink recession turning blue: Trend suggests more men losing jobs

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Men are suffering a bigger blow than women to their job prospects as the pandemic imposes sweeping layoffs nationwide, sparking a rethink about the “pink recession” seen in the first phase of the crisis.

The trend suggests Victoria has broken from other states in the way the pandemic has taken its toll on jobs, making it the only place where unemployment is worse for women than men.

Men face the prospect of greater unemployment in the long term of the current economic downturn.Credit:Virginia Star

With male unemployment reaching deeper levels in NSW and Queensland, the trend is fuelling a debate over federal measures to save blue-collar jobs in a prolonged downturn.

Labor innovation spokeswoman Clare O’Neil will call on Monday for more “nuance” in the debate over gender and work rather than seeing the issue as a competition over who is doing it tougher from the recession.

“Women had it worse to begin with. Now it is men. And there is evidence that as the months progress we may see more of this,” she said.

“And now that men are more severely affected, it feels like a problem we are less comfortable talking about.”

Official figures show unemployment reached 7.6 per cent for women in Victoria in September compared to 5.9 per cent for men, reflecting a bigger increase for women since March.

The Age revealed on Sunday that Victorian women had fallen further behind men in the jobs market than at any time since the beginning of the economic crisis.

The trend in NSW has seen male unemployment reach 7.8 per cent, up 2.5 percentage points since March, while female unemployment reached 6.5 per cent, up 2.1 percentage points over the same period.

Male unemployment reached 8.75 per cent in Queensland, up 2.9 percentage points since March, compared to 6.5 per cent for women, up 1 per cent over the same time.

Ms O’Neil will cite the labour force figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in a speech to the McKell Institute on Monday, arguing Victoria could follow other states with a “tsunami” of problems for men in traditional industries.

“Lockdowns affect women more than men [but] the downturns that follow will probably affect men more than women,” Ms O’Neil told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald ahead of her speech.

“This will depend, of course, on the policy response. But this switch has already happened in most states and territories. Victoria is behind because we are still in the ‘artificial’ phase of the recession.”

Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood agreed the trend showed higher unemployment for men in most states.

“I’d expect to see Victoria follow that pattern,” she said.

“But I think it’s important to note that more women than men have dropped out of the labour force altogether.

“And while men are faring a bit worse, it’s very different to previous recessions when they fared far worse.”

Labor, the Greens, unions and some economists have criticised Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government for not doing more for women in the October 6 budget, with Labor leader Anthony Albanese offering a $6.2 billion childcare package days later.

Ms Wood said the budget did not do enough in key areas for women or men, calling it a “blue response to a pink and blue recession” because it emphasised manufacturing, infrastructure, transport and defence.

Mr Morrison has defended against claims from Labor and the Greens that he should have done more for women in the budget.

“There will be voices that will try and set young people against older people, women against men, jobs in one sector versus jobs in another sector – they are the voices of division that will undermine the future economic prosperity of all Australians,” he said.

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