Calgary women hired while men get fired

‘Shocking’ trend is potentially troubling says organization

After Gina Sutherland lost her job at a Calgary magazine when it folded in February she started firing out resumes joining thousands of Calgarians stuck in the same situation. One job she applied for had more than 300 applicants; another had 90. No luck.

“In February and March there were times when I’d go out with groups of friends and there were more of us laid off and without work than people who had jobs” recalls Sutherland.

Finally in June she had a flurry of job interviews. She landed another magazine internship and soon after secured a permanent full-time PR gig she’ll begin later this month. “It’s a massive relief” she says. “It’s a fantastic feeling to have stability.”

Sutherland’s not alone in her job success. While the number of employed men has dramatically dropped in Calgary this year the number of employed women has actually increased according to recent Statistics Canada data compiled by Vibrant Communities Calgary.

In Sutherland’s case all three of the female staff from her old job have found new employment while the male staff member has not yet started a new job.

From July 1 2008 to June 30 2009 16500 Calgary men over the age of 20 lost their jobs — and the number of women employed in the same age category went up by 3700. “It was shocking for us” says Jordon Hamilton the organization’s public and government affairs co-ordinator. “I thought we’d see layoffs on both sides.”

While the numbers are good news for some Vibrant Communities Calgary says the data is potentially troublesome. “What’s disturbing about the data is that women are on average paid significantly less than men since women’s wages are significantly lower than men’s” says Sarah Newman a project co-ordinator who researches gender relations for the organization.

Vibrant Communities Calgary is a non-profit that advocates for long-term strategies that address the systemic root causes of poverty in Calgary.

The average hourly wage for Calgary men over the age of 20 in the first six months of 2009 was $26 compared with $20.67 for women. “What it’s saying to us is that families are losing their male breadwinners — or their co-breadwinners — and that’s forcing these families to live on less” says Newman.

She also notes that male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing are often unionized but labour sectors with higher percentages of women — such as the service industry — often don’t have union protection. “They are beginning to organize but traditionally they’ve hired women who arguably don’t have that history of organization that men do.”

Another recently released employment report this one from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives dubs the employment situation a “he-cession.” According to that report men account for 71 per cent of Canadians who have lost their jobs during the recession.

At Aspen Family & Community Network Society a local social services agency that works with low-income families staff are dealing with a heavier caseload — and as the data indicates they’re seeing more men being laid off than women. “The economic impact of that is huge” says executive director Shirely Purves.

The layoffs are particularly harmful to Calgary families Purves says after rents shot up in the city during the boom. “They were able to cope with it for a while but now with them being a one-income household instead of a two-income household it’s really having some huge ripple effects.”

Purves says Aspen is constantly referring families to the food bank and in some cases even dealing with families who have become homeless because of job losses.

Alberta has seen the fastest increase of employment insurance beneficiaries in the country. From May of last year to May 2009 the number of Calgarians claiming EI benefits more than quadrupled from 4100 to 18200. (And nationwide less than half of those unemployed are eligible for EI benefits.)

However average wages for both male and female Calgarians increased slightly from 2008. That’s surprising to University of Calgary economist Christopher Bruce. “You’d think median earnings would go down not up” he says. “Maybe the recession isn’t hitting Calgary as badly as people think.”

The average median hourly wage increased by $1 for Calgary men from July 1 2008 to June 30 2009 while wages for Calgary women increased by only 42 cents over the same period.

Newman says the changing labour climate is challenging people to redefine family roles. A potential positive she says is that Calgarians facing an identity crisis might re-examine “what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man.”