Judith Saidel

(WOMENSENEWS)–The number and overall percentage of women holding state and local government jobs increased slightly between 1990 and 1997, even as the overall number of these public jobs shrank, a recent study indicates.

Men held 56 percent of all non-federal government jobs, down from 57 percent; however, men retained 66.6 percent of the managerial positions, down from 68.7 at the opening of the decade, according to the study by the Center for Women in Government, based in Albany, N.Y.

In addition, the study found that the government workforce is becoming more diversified, with a dramatic increase in the number of minority women employees. Yet, African-American women did not realize the same increase in jobs as other minority women.

Latinas gained 26.4 percent more state and local government jobs; Asian-American women, 25.5 percent; Native American women, 18.6 percent and African-American women, 1.5 percent, according to the recently published “The Changing Government Workforce in States and Localities, 1990-1997.” The number of white women holding these jobs decreased by 3.4 percent.

The report also says that the percentage of women in the higher-level government jobs increased by 6.4 percent. However, African-American women saw their managerial positions shrink by 2.9 percent.

Historically, Women Get Better Wages, Benefits in Public Sector

Judith Saidel, coeditor of the report, emphasized the significance of this study, saying that historically women have been able to obtain better wages and benefits when working for the government than in the private sector.

“Looking to see what happens to women in the public sector is a really important thing to do,” she said, “because it is one perspective on women’s overall economic well-being, since the public sector has always been such a hospitable economic environment for women.”

The study relied on data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s biennial surveys covering 1990 through 1997, the latest year for which data was available.

Women have marked significant gains in professional and protective service occupations, the second and third highest-paying positions, with a notable increase of 34 percent in protective service jobs. These gains occurred as a result of the growth in the prison industry, the police force and health care services, according to the report.

Women experienced noticeable job losses in the administrative support sector, where they traditionally dominate. The number of women holding these types of lower-paying jobs decreased by 9.9 percent, while the number of men holding them decreased by 5.3 percent. The reason given: downsizing.

Saidel expressed concern at the number of these jobs lost, explaining that these positions, until now, have been a reliable source of good jobs with benefits for many women.

“If you take as a premise that there will always be a predominance of women in administrative support jobs,” Saidel said, “where are women likely to do better?”

Jobs Increase in South and Far West, Decline in Northeast, Midwest

The differences among the states were significant. State and local government jobs grew in the South and far West and they declined in the Northeast and Midwest, patterns that are consistent with the migration of Americans from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West, as confirmed by the most recent census data.

“One could have said overall that because women gained slightly even during this period of downsizing, the 1990s were not so terrible for women in terms of the public sector workforce,” Saidel said. “But in reality, in some states, they were absolutely catastrophic, especially for women of color.”

For example, in Massachusetts from 1990 to 1997, the number of African-American women holding local and state government jobs decreased by 26.8 percent, and in New York, the number decreased by 19 percent. The numbers of Latinas in both states were also down. They lost 3.9 percent in New York and 9.9 percent in Massachusetts.

Asian-American women in New York state gained 21.9 percent more jobs during the same time period, but the number of Asian-American women in Massachusetts declined by 4.2 percent.

Native American women gained in both states: in New York, 12.7 percent and in Massachusetts 21.2 percent.

These trends may be the result of state and local governments’ effort to increase racial and ethnic diversity in their ranks, said Deborah Gary, director of communication for Blacks in Government, based in Washington, D.C. The population has become more diverse, and government employers are hiring a wider range of minorities, not only African Americans.

“No longer do you have just black women considered minorities. Now, you have all these others,” she said.

There may be other reasons for the relative decline in the numbers of African-American women in public sector jobs, such as increasing unemployment and a more hospitable private sector, Gary said.

Founded at the University at Albany in 1978, the Center for Women in Government encourages women’s role in public policy and advocates equity in the workplace.

Laurence Pantin is a journalist based in New York.