SACRAMENTO AND LOS ANGELES — California's unemployment rate in May hit 11.5% -- its highest level in more than three decades -- but the pain of losing work isn't being shared equally between the sexes.
The state lost 68,900 jobs in May as unemployment rose from a revised 11.1% in April and 6.8% in May 2008. This is the highest rate since the national record-keeping system began in 1976.
Out of every four jobs lost nationwide since the recession began in December 2007, three have been lost by men.
Some experts have dubbed the phenomenon a "mancession."
In California, the gap between the two groups has been widening since the end of August. Back then, the unemployment rate over the preceding 12 months was the same for men and women, 6.3%. By May, the 12-month rate was 9.6% for men and 8.2% for women.
The result: Pressure on households that once had two earners and were relatively comfortable.
"Now there are many families in which the woman is the sole earner" and the man has been laid off or is working part-time, said Lauren Appelbaum, a UCLA researcher. The loss of the man's earnings makes it hard for once-middle-class families to make ends meet because the average female worker earns just 78% of what a man gets in a similar occupation, Appelbaum said.
Men are suffering more in this downturn because they are heavily represented in construction and manufacturing, two of California's most devastated industries. Women have gravitated toward healthcare, education, government and other service fields that have not shed as many jobs as the male-dominated sectors.
Indeed, Friday's jobs report noted that education and health services were the only parts of the economy that added jobs last month.
The loss of a father's income often leads to cancellation of health insurance for a whole family, said Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington. And with more women serving as breadwinners when their husbands are unemployed and out searching for work, it's essential that women have access to paid sick leave, she added.
Marian Lorimer is one such woman. Last year, the former stay-at-home mom snagged a job as a substitute special education teacher at a school district near her home in Camarillo. Her husband, Matt, has been looking for work for more than a year after being laid off as a warehouse manager.
"She applied and got hired, just like that," Matt Lorimer said, noting that his wife's salary helps but isn't enough to support the family.
Jon Lieber of Westlake Village also is a stay-at-home dad when he's not out looking for work. He's had trouble finding another job in the securities industry since being laid off in September. Now he perfects his spaghetti-and-meatballs recipe and grills chicken and burgers when his wife, Deborah Gallant, is busy with her consulting business.
"I spend a lot more time grocery shopping, picking my daughter up from school," he said. "It wasn't something I was doing when I was working 50 hours a week."
There could be more men in his position if the jobs picture, as is expected, gets worse before it gets better.
A trio of economic reports predicted that the upswing won't happen before early next year. Recent forecasts from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, Chapman University and Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles consulting firm, predict that unemployment in the state will peak between 12.1% and 12.8%, possibly as early as year's end.
"We believe the recession at the state level should end by mid-2010, when job creation will start," said Esmael Adibi, a Chapman economist.
But for now, California continues to bleed jobs, more so than most of the rest of the country. The national unemployment rate for May was 9.4%, and only four states had higher jobless numbers than California: Michigan at 14.1%, Oregon at 12.4% and Rhode Island and South Carolina, tied at 12.1%.
California, which has 11% of the country's workforce, accounted for 1 out of every 5 jobs lost last month. The state has been vulnerable to paralyzing inactivity in fields related to real estate, including construction, financial services and home-related retail sales.
"Until we see real estate stabilizing, which it is not, we are not going to see significant improvements in the California economy," said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Cal State Channel Islands.
What's worse, Sohn said, is that weakness in real estate is spreading to commercial properties.
The dearth of activity in real estate, housing and construction is being felt particularly in the Inland Empire, where unemployment rose in May to 13% from 12.7% the month before. Joblessness jumped in Ventura County to 9.5% from 9.3%, and it rose in Orange County to 8.6% from 8.4%.
Other economists said they were disappointed that California's labor market, unlike that of the nation, isn't showing signs of hitting bottom.
"I was hoping that the job loss would be smaller, but it's about the same as it's been the last three months," said Howard Roth at the state Department of Finance.