Help still wanted

Some may have read the article today in the PG on women in Pittsburgh’s labor force.   It references a report we did some years ago on gender wage differences in the Pittsburgh region. Note the story today does not mention the third author Susan Hansen as well for the record.   No matter how you parse it, I have been saying for some time (page 3 of this* for example) that the trend in female labor force participation is one of the keys to understanding economic transformation in Pittsburgh.

So how bad was it for women working in Pittsburgh in the past.  Earlier in the week I quoted a sentence from a 1946 study that said Pittsburgh would…. “slowly decline unless new industries employing women and those engaged in the production of consumer goods are attracted to the area.”

Think about that date for a minute.  1946 was not a period when there was a lot of thought given to gender issues in the labor force.  The women who had entered the workforce to fill crucial shortages during the war were being laid off en masse as men returned from service.  Things must have been acutely different here for that thought to even come to mind.  Labor force participation for women, particularly married women and even more so married women with children were all far below what was typical elsewhere in the nation and would remain so for decades to come.

But play forward several decades.  So much that the media went to court to keep segregating job ads by gender long after most of the country has ceased the practice.  In Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a local ordinance that prohibited publishing job advertisements that sorted positions into “Help Wanted: Male” and “Help Wanted: Female.”  Think about it.  1973 is not the stone age, yet the Pittsburgh Press at the time was willing to spend money to appeal the ruling against them all the way to the supreme court to advertise some jobs for women and others for men. Only in the last couple of years would they even concede the minimal disclaimer I pasted in the image above…. and I will bet you that was only put into print on the advice of their attorneys.

Plenty of folks working today had entered the labor force by then.   Was the training and education system here set up for women to compete with men?  It was worse than that.  It was well into the 20th century that a lot of large employers in the Pittsburgh region would not as policy employ married women with children.

* Note also the sentence of population trends for the region turning positive in 10-15 years. That was early in 2002, which means my forecasts were really from 2001.   I think we may have hit that window pretty closely.

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