By Vicki Needham - 03/25/12 09:15 PM EDT
Women aren't faring as well as other groups in the job market's recovery and that could put a dent into their support for President Obama.
While female workers largely held their own through the recession, job gains have slowed since the downturn ended in June 2009, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data on the demographics of the labor market recovery.
Still, women are likely to consider a broad range of health and economic issues beyond just job growth figures in casting their vote for president.
"The job market may not be recovering as well but that doesn't mean Democrats are in trouble with women," said Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster and head of Momentum Analysis.
"Ultimately, Democrats fortunes will rise on how clearly they can contrast themselves with Republicans across a range of health and economic issues," she said.
"The women I talk to are concerned about day-to-day pocketbook issues, they are feeling the squeeze uniquely."
While debates over contraception and abortion have dominated attention lately, the job market and improvement in the broader economy are also very much in the mix.
Out of all the groups represented in Pew's survey — including blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians — women are the only group for whom employment growth lagged behind population growth from 2009 to 2011.
During that time, female employment grew by 0.9 percent and lagged behind growth in the population of working-age women by 1.5 percent.
That has led to jobs gains of only 600,000 — from 65.5 million to 66.1 million — for women, compared with 2.6 million for men during those two years, the survey showed.
Employment for women in the final three months of last year was 2 million less than its pre-recession level of 68.1 million.
Their unemployment rate also saw smaller gains than it did for men, dropping slightly from 8.3 percent in 2009 to 8 percent in 2011.
Meanwhile, in comparison, men lost twice as many jobs as women from the end of 2007 through 2009 — but have since gained four times as many jobs back.
The growth in male employment during the recovery, 3.5 percent, has outpaced the growth in the male working-age population, which was 2.1 percent.
Men likely struggled more during the downturn as the economy shed construction and manufacturing jobs.
A University of Chicago study in 2009 predicted that the women's labor-force participation rate would fall as the economy recovers — women represented close to 50 percent of the workforce during the recession.
Historically, the pattern is similar, as those jobs in manufacturing and construction return, hiring for men picks up at a faster pace than for women, the Chicago study said.
"At the end of the recession, men faced a jobs gap that was twice as large as the gap for women," said report author Rakesh Kochhar, a researcher at the Pew Hispanic Center.
"But the jobs gap for men has fallen from 2009 to 2011 even as the gap for women has risen," he wrote.
"By this yardstick, the economic recovery has proceeded in opposite directions for men and women."
Nonetheless, compared with before the start of the recession in 2007, employment levels for men are down by more, a loss of 3.4 percent for men versus 2.9 percent for women.
"So, overall, men still face a steeper climb back," the report says.
Still, there aren't any explanations as to why men have gained more jobs than women since 2009, the Pew study said.
Job cutbacks by federal, state and local governments is one reason women have lagged behind men in recent years, but a previous analysis by Pew found that much about this phenomenon remains unclear.
Women are nearly 50 percent more likely to work in the public sector than men, according to a Labor Department report in 2010.
They also are nearly twice as likely as men to work part time. In 2010, 26.6 percent of women worked part-time compared with just 13.4 percent of men.
A new study set to be released by the Federal Reserve suggests that some well-educated women are leaving the workforce as their husbands eclipse their earning capability.
Between 1993 and 2006, there was a decline in the workforce of 0.1 percent a year on average in the number of college-educated women, with similarly educated spouses, according to a story in Reuters on the study.
That led to a depletion of 1.64 million women in the workforce by 2008 because of that slower growth rate.
As the economy has stabilized during the past two years, women have pulled out of the job market, the Fed study reportedly shows.
What all this means for Obama's reelection hopes one can only speculate at this point.
Right now, women appear to be favoring Obama over any potential GOP nominees.
In 2008, Obama carried women voters, 56 percent to 43 percent.
In a recent Bloomberg poll, 49 percent choose Obama over front-runner former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Among female voters, Obama is up 55 percent to 38 percent over Romney, according to an Economist-YouGov poll released on Thursday.
The president is the only candidate with a positive favorability rating among women, with 50 percent saying they have a favorable view, versus 43 percent unfavorable.
Romney is running behind with women 36 percent to 46 percent, and the numbers are far worse for Santorum and Gingrich, who are negative by 20 percent and 38 percent respectively, the Economist poll shows.
Obama seems to have distanced himself from GOP presidential hopefuls in the debate over forcing health insurance to cover the cost of contraception, with a majority considering the issue to be a women’s health concern.
More than six in 10 respondents — including almost 70 percent of women — say access to birth control is a healthcare issue and isn't about religious freedom, according to a recent Bloomberg survey.
Republicans have criticized the administration’s contraception mandate as an attack on religious liberties, saying it will force some faith-based groups, including hospitals and universities, to provide birth control.
All told, 77 percent say contraception isn't a political issue.
In 2010, women went with Republicans, but just slightly, 49 percent to 48 percent, as the GOP won back control of the House.
"Democrats really missed an opportunity to focus on healthcare and women's issues," Omero said.
A separate poll by Resurgent Republic also found that Obama has somewhat strengthened his standing among women.
In states with relatively low unemployment, a group of suburban women surveyed said they were "disturbed and nervous" about the economy.
While they acknowledge the national unemployment rate is slowly improving - it was 8.3 percent in February - they say there is a "long way to go in terms of quality, family-supporting jobs and believe the underemployment figures more accurately describe the economic climate."
Still, when they evaluate the job Obama has done since taking office in 2009, they hold back from placing full blame on the president. They say he either hasn't had enough time or that the economic problems were more severe than he realized.