The Impact of the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 on Women’s Employment

Summary of Paper prepared for the Policy Integration Department
International Labour Office

Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg Professor of Social Work Adelphi University School of Social Work, Chair, National Jobs for All Coalition
Helen Lachs Ginsburg Professor Emerita of Economics Brooklyn College, City University of New York, Publications co-chair, National Jobs for All Coalition
July 30, 2002

The full paper is available at the ILO website: “Assessing the Impact of Attacks of 11 Sep 2001…”, Working Paper #6, Oct 2003.

This paper investigated the following hypothesis:

Women’s employment is likely to have been more affected by the impact of the events of 11 September 2001 and their aftermath than men’s employment. Many of the affected industries employ a larger share of women in those categories of employment that shed the most jobs (e.g. flight attendants, lower paid jobs in hotel and tourism). Women are more likely to be employed on a precarious basis, being the first to lose their jobs. Even with the United States economy and productivity growing by mid-2002, women
remain more adversely affected as regards employment than men in the post-
September 11 scenario.

The investigation was fraught with difficulties, not the least of it the two-months time limit given to us. It was difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle the effects of the terrorist attacks from the economic slowdown that had begun in the United States some six months earlier. We examined existing studies and reports, gained access to a number of data sets (published and unpublished) of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau Labor Statistics, and held interviews with researchers, academics, and representatives of labor and industry who were knowledgeable about national or local conditions in the areas affected by the attacks. We concluded that all existing analyses fell short of answering our question. Was it, we asked, the tendency to neglect women’s issues or the fact that gender did not, in this case, seem to be a salient variable.

Our investigation led us to concentrate on non-farm payroll data collected by Bureau of Labor Statistics and to compare changes in employment in the year preceding the attacks with changes in the year of the attacks. These payroll employment figures were available by gender for all industries and the industries most seriously impacted by the events of September 11. These data, while showing somewhat less job loss for women than men in the entire, very large U. S. economy, did reveal more employment loss for women than men post 9/11, in the following industries: manufacturing; transportation by air and particularly its sub-category, scheduled air travel; transportation services and its subsidiary, travel agents; retail trade, hotels and motels; and eating and drinking places.

We stress the tentative nature of even these findings, given the difficulty of disentangling the effects of cyclical changes, secular changes, especially in manufacturing, and the unprecedented terrorist attacks. Further, the results of our analysis of national payroll data do not tell another part of the toll of the combined effects of recession and terrorism, that is, reduced working hours, pay cuts, and changes in working conditions. These hardships were visited on workers, but we did not obtain systematic data regarding extent or gender. Locality data were either without gender distinctions or incomplete so that it is hard to generalize about reported hardships for women workers in hard-hit cities, metropolitan areas, or states.

It was clear from a number of studies that lower-wage workers, including immigrants, tended to be hurt more in the post-9/11 scenario. Women, we hardly need to point out, are over-represented among the lower-wage workers and the working poor.

Part of the post 9/11 scenario is compensation for job losses in the aftermath of the attacks. The unemployed and underemployed fell into a safety net, never very supportive, that had been tattered-if not battered-in the preceding decades. The paper details the problems in coverage and benefit levels of the Unemployment Insurance system and shows how lower-wage workers and women, particularly, are poorly compensated, if at all.

The paper takes into account the responses to 9/11 of voluntary, particularly labor, organizations, and government. The advocacy and service provided by nongovernmental organizations increased access to Unemployment Insurance and other benefits and, in some instances, affected actual eligibility rules. The aggressive and admirable response of the labor movement not only aided both union and non-union workers but, by winning respect for and loyalty to organized labor, may have offset potential losses.

The paper also calls attention to some consequences of the governmental response to the attacks that, like increased defense spending and possible further neglect of social programs, have implications both for women’s employment and income support. The governmental response in the months following 9/11 was greater than in an ordinary recession and may well have kept both the terrorist attacks and the gathering economic clouds from creating an even more stormy economy. Yet, it was a lopsided approach, quicker and more generous to business than to workers. In fact, the government made some loans to airlines contingent on their gaining concessions from labor-a choice that could have ominous implications that could go well beyond that particular industry. Further, Washington failed to address the serious inadequacies of the unemployment insurance system.

A renewed attack on economic inequality and the disadvantaged position of women in the labor market would, in the future, make it unnecessary to raise the question of this paper, namely whether women suffered greater employment losses than men. It would both reduce women’s hardships and equalize residual disadvantage.