Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

In the late 1960s, women began entering the New York City labor force in unprecedented numbers - just as the city began a steep economic decline. Even as the number of jobs in the city began to drop, women filled more of them. But more than 30 years later, major differences persist between men and women in the city.

Women concentrate more in sales and office work, while men predominate in construction and production jobs. In all fields, women tend to the lower paid jobs, and a wage gap between men and women remains. "Just being a woman has an important effect on your educational attainment, what job you get and how much you make," Ester Fuchs, an adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said at a panel discussion recently.

The discussion, cosponsored by the Museum of the City of New York and Barnard College, marked the 30th anniversary of the NYC Commission on Women's Issues. Panelists discussed the overall state of women workers in the city and focused on three disparate fields: poorly paid - and overwhelmingly female - home health aides; traditionally male - and well paid - construction jobs; and Wall Street, where many women still find obstacles to the top jobs.


Just being a woman has an important effect on your educational attainment, the jobs you seek, and even how much money you make at the end of the day, the end of the year, or the end of your lifetime.

Females in New York City comprise almost 53 percent of the over 8 million people that live in the city. Overall, the population of New York City increased about 9 percent across all races from 1990 to 2000.

  • Asian, non-Hispanic women have increased 60 percent, even though they only comprise 9.2 percent of the population. They are the fastest growing group.
  • Hispanic women have increased 23 percent. They are currently 27 percent of the population.
  • Black women have remained constant; they remain about 26 percent of the population.
  • White women as a proportion of women in New York have declined by 12 percent. They are still the largest group with 35 percent of the population.


Your race, your ethnicity, and your age have an impact on your earnings and your capacity for finding an occupation. All of these demographic factors -- these gripping characteristics of who we are -- have an impact on who we become. Is it etched in stone? Does it have to happen this way? No! But if we don't create interventions, whether public or private, we can be sure that the patterns of the past will become the patterns of the future.

As a group, Hispanic women in the city are the youngest; 40 percent are under the age of 25. And white women are the oldest. Almost half are 45 and older.

In some groups, a higher ratio of immigrant men come here alone, and in other groups, a higher ratio of women come alone. So among Pakistani and Mexican immigrants you find 150 males to every 100 females, and among immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, and the Philippines, there are fewer than 75 males for every 100 females. This has implications for who will become, over the long term, part of the American fabric.

Another interesting piece of data along those lines: Fifty-seven percent of births in New York City are to foreign-born mothers. That means the growth of our population is largely dependent upon the new immigrant women who come in here. These are the kids who are in families where there is low income, low educational attainment. If we are not focusing on these families, we are not focusing on the future of the City of New York.

Educational attainment for those over 25 years old varies greatly by race.

  • Forty-six percent of Hispanic women have no high school diploma, while only 11 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Among white women 16 percent have no high school diploma, while over 40 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Among black females about 28 percent have no high school diploma, 28 percent are high school graduates, 27 percent have some college, and 17 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.


For Asian women we see a very skewed population. A large group with no high school, 33 percent, and a large group with bachelor's or higher, 35 percent. There is really misinformation that all Asians have high educational achievement. In fact, many are new immigrants, and the parents do not have higher education achievement. It's interesting to see the children in these communities achieving at a better level than other communities made up of people who were born here.

On the whole, women are slightly more likely than men to have no high school diploma, 28 versus 27 percent, and women are slightly less likely to have bachelor's degree. The exception is that educational attainment is higher among black women than black men.

In all race groups, men participate in the labor market at higher rates than women. The difference is most pronounced among Asians, only 53 percent of Asian women are in the labor force compared with 69 percent of Asian men. And labor force participation rates are most evenly distributed between black men and women, with 56 percent of women in the labor force and 60 percent of men.

Women are more likely than men to be employed in sales occupations. Women are also more likely than men to be employed in management occupations, and men are more likely to be employed in production and construction positions.

Women still earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. In management jobs, men earn on average $76,000 a year, while women earn about $55,000 a year. The greatest differential between men and women is in production jobs, essentially manufacturing jobs, where women earn about 54 cents on the dollar. Women in construction, however, earn more on average than men. Women earn $1.04 for ever dollar for men.

The earnings ratio between male and female is lowest among whites, that is to say that white women earn on average, 74 cents on the dollar to white men. Black women are bringing it up for the rest. Black women earn 94 cents on the dollar to black men. I don't know if this is a story about black women or a story about racism against black men, but black women have less gender inequality on wages than white women, Asian women, or Hispanic women.

These data are not simply about why patterns have emerged, but what we as a society and we as a city can do to address such patterns and ensure that women truly live in a city of equal opportunity.

--Ester Fuchs, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's special advisor to for governance and strategic planning, and a political science professor at Columbia University


When you read murder mysteries or you watch police shows and try to figure out what happens and who did what, the answer always is "follow the money." Women in general across the country are skewed to the lowest paid industries in the economy, and within any given industry, women are skewed to the lowest paid jobs. That is why our wages are less. So how can we get out of that? One of the things we can do is go where the money is.

There is a tremendous opportunity in construction jobs. These are good jobs. They are union jobs with good pay, good benefits and pensions. Many people enjoy doing them, they get a lot of satisfaction out of doing this kind of work. After 9/11, when they interviewed men helping to do the cleanup, they talked about how they remember their fathers working on building those towers and how proud they were to be part of building this magnificent city.

In the coming years, the construction industry is going to provide a great number of opportunities. That is partly because of the construction expansion in this city - the rebuilding downtown, a higher rate of new housing starts. And many of the men in the industry are aging out. They want to retire and their sons, who have traditionally taken those jobs, may be doing something else.

So, we are looking at potentially 30,000 new jobs in the next five to 10 years. The question becomes how do we get women to know about these jobs, how do you get them into the jobs, and then how do you get them to keep those jobs.

One of the problems in getting women into these jobs and into many non-traditional jobs is that women don't know about them. They don't see themselves in those jobs. We did some research on what would happen to women who were thrown off welfare. The social workers would say to the women, "What do you want to do?" and they would say "what do I know how to do? I know cosmetology."

When you change the sets of questions and start giving out information about the differences in pay -- $6, $7, $8 an hour versus $20 or $30 an hour -- suddenly the number of women interested in construction jobs soared - just soared. It's information that counts.

Clearly, for women across the board -- and for non-traditional jobs and jobs with a difficult schedule -- childcare is an important piece that has to be filled in. That really has to be a social responsibility. This business that each individual woman is the only one responsible for this kids and maybe, if she's lucky, she gets some help from the father or her husband is something that clearly has to change.

One day I thought I had the most brilliant idea in the world about childcare. I said, "The answer is that we don't just have maternity leave for mothers but that we require fathers to take paternity leave, we force them." And you know what? Norway does it. So it's not so wacky.

Why can't it be that way? Part of the problem is changing the stereotypes about men as much as it is about changing the stereotypes about women.

Discrimination against women still runs deep - very deep - in these non-traditional jobs. The unions have gotten good wages, good benefits, and good pensions for their members. The other side of the coin though, is: are women going to be allowed to get those jobs and keep those jobs? We are going to have to get women to take jobs that pay more and then we have to change the conditions on those jobs.

--Kathy Rodgers, president, Legal Momentum


Homecare workers in New York City and throughout the nation are among the most undervalued workers. Many of us would not be able to function, go to work and have our lives if we didn't have a person coming to take care of a loved one, neighbor, or relative in such a caring and loving way. At least 80 percent of home health aides are women.

The structure under which home health care is delivered here is unique to New York City. There are two completely different streams of services -- one through the New York City Human Resources Administration and the other mostly through private companies that are licensed to provide home-care services. The payments are different also. The HRA system was organized by the 1199 union in the early 1980s. Home-care workers working under that system average $9 to $10 an hour with family health care coverage, pension plans, access to educational programs.

The home health aide side is mostly private. The jobs are largely minimum wage and without access to education programs or health benefits. So, the benefits of unionization in this case are extreme.

One topic that has not been discussed very widely is that the pool of workers who are between 25 and 44 is shrinking, because of the smaller post baby-boom generation entering the workforce. Fewer women and workers will want to go into low-wage and undervalued jobs as more choices come up for young women, even those who don't have high school diplomas.

--Faith Wiggins, Director, Local 1199 Bill Michelson Home Care Industry Education Fund


I started off at Goldman Sachs in 1980 after business school. To tell you the truth, I had no idea how difficult the environment would be on Wall Street for women at that time. There were very few women when I started. There were more women when I left, but women had not achieved the higher ranks.

We all like to think that women have made significant gains in the last five to 10 years. But Catalyst, a research and advisory group that supports women in business, recently conducted a survey of women on Wall Street to get the opinions of women and to get the opinions of men and to see if there were any differences. Only 18 percent of the women report that women's opportunities to advance to leadership positions in their firms have increased greatly in the last five years compared to 50 percent of the men. So, there's still a perception on the part of these women that they can't advance to the highest levels of their firms. I think that says a lot.

There are significant barriers to women rising in their firms. Most women believe that one of their biggest challenges is their outside demands with their families.

The challenge in the business world is your competition. If you're a female and you take time off every day or if you go on a part-time basis for a period of time, your competition - males -- are not doing that. There is job sharing, part-time work, but employers are not generally sympathetic to that in part because the companies are run by men and they have plenty of workers who don't need those special considerations.

If you look at statistics for law school graduates and business school graduates, the majority of women have taken some time off during the last 15 years. It is hard to get back, but it's not impossible. The biggest barrier is that, when the woman goes back, she is generally dealing with an unsympathetic work environment.

I also spent some founding a women-owned investment-banking firm. I did that in part because I wanted to have more flexibility and more opportunity for advancement, which I couldn't see in the big firm. An entrepreneurial situation is not right for all people but it's a viable option for women today. If you have the mindset and the skills to break out on your own or break out with a small organization I think women actually have greater opportunities.

Women need to think about their careers as a long-term project. There will be different opportunities at different points. It is very important for the next generation of women and for all of us today to think through what the educational institutions, the society and the city can do to help women be more aware not only of the options they have today but also the consequences and plan for the long term.

Every woman who is out in the workforce has to take responsibility for her life, and for that of her corporation, her union, her organization, whatever. That's the only way improvement is going to happen. It's not up to Catalyst. It's not up to the city. Everyone has to take that responsibility.

--Deborah Buresh Jackson, private equity investor