Opening Bell: Women Leaving Workforce

But not necessarily by choice; Steve Jobs’s health and Apple’s stock price; Yahoo gives Icahn board seats; etc.

The New York Times on page one reports that the number of women in the workforce is declining. The recovery (which is all but officially over) from the 2001 recession is the first since 1960 where the percentage of women working is lower than before the recession.

In 2000, 74.9 percent of women worked. Last month, that had fallen to 72.7 percent. It’s not necessarily because more women are choosing to stay home. This goes a long way toward understanding why so many never felt the glow from the recovery of the last several years:

After moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut. And they are responding as men have, by dropping out or disappearing for a while.

Indeed, while unemployment has remained low in the last seven years, the rate of workforce participation has decreased (something the Times should have mentioned), signaling that the economy isn’t creating enough good jobs to draw people back into the workforce—and that real unemployment could be higher than the stats say. The not-enough-good-jobs woes show up in women’s median earnings, which have fallen from $15.04 an hour four years ago to $14.84 last year.

The Times notes in so many words that any improvement in household incomes over the last few decades has been because of wives getting jobs, adding a second income to the traditional male-led family, and it says the loss of that income (an average one-third of the total) could be “potentially disastrous” for families.

This is interesting info:

Ninety-six percent of the men held jobs in 1953, their peak year. That is down to 86.4 percent today. But while men are rarely thought of as dropping out to run the household, that is often the assumption when women pull out.

By the way, the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale, too

The Bush administration is pushing harder on its campaign to save free markets from themselves. Yesterday, it sent Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson—gasp!—to The New York Times for an editorial meeting, and the Times gives his pitch for the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailout A1 play.

It even lets Paulson get by with this quote without any follow-up Times skepticism:

“The more flexibility we have on the credit facility, the more confidence you have in the market and the greater protection to the taxpayer because the less likely it will be used,” Mr. Paulson said. “Something like that shouldn’t have to be used. It’s like the Fed’s lender of last resort facility.”

So Paulson says we should give him a no-ceiling checking account with which to bail out Fannie Mae because if he has it he won’t have to use it. That’s like authorizing military action in Iraq back in 2002 so Saddam Hussein would back down so we wouldn’t have to use military action.

Anybody buying that line?

Cut up that card!

American Express posted weak earnings for the second-straight quarter, sending its shares tumbling 11 percent in after-hours trading. It seems even its wealthy customers are feeling the pinch from the downturn, and the problems accelerated during the second quarter, with June being the worst month. Calculated Risk points out a new term—superprime!—and notes that AmEx says even those top-notch spenders are showing strain.

The Wall Street Journal puts the news on C1, the Times runs wire copy on C3. AmEx profits dropped 38 percent and it socked away $600 million for future bad loans. The Journal:

The card company, which both issues plastic and processes electronic-payment transactions on its proprietary network, has been hurt by a slowdown in cardholder spending and rising losses and delinquencies in its fast-growing lending portfolio, which allows cardholders to carry a balance. To stem the losses, AmEx has been slashing credit lines and tightening its underwriting standards to a range of customers.

Apple’s stock drops, but is Steve Jobs okay?

Apple reported solid results with computer shipments up 41 percent, but issued conservative guidance for the next three months—as the company is wont to do—and its stock also plunged after hours by 11 percent. The WSJ on B1 says its outlook raises concerns for a nervous technology industry.

But much of the drop could have been because of hardly reassuring words from Apple’s chief financial officer concerning worries about CEO Steve Jobs’ health after the cancer survivor appeared gaunt at a recent event:

Responding to an analyst’s question about CEO Steve Jobs’s health, Mr. Oppenheimer said on a conference call that Mr. Jobs “has no plans to leave Apple” and the Apple leader’s “health is a private matter.”

The Journal inexplicably leaves it at that without any context about Jobs’ medical history. It should have expanded on that and it seriously underplayed the health information by putting it in the penultimate paragraph. The Times on C1 is not much better.

Yahoo buys off Icahn with three board seats

Yahoo agreed to give activist investor Carl Icahn three board seats to get him to end his proxy fight with the company over its refusal to sell to Microsoft, the Journal says on A1 and the Times on C1.

Yahoo will probably regret buying off Icahn, who only owns 5 percent of its shares. Here’s what he’s done at Blockbuster, where he owns just 14 percent:

Since he gained control of three seats on what was an eight-person board, the company’s CEO and most of the top management have left. People familiar with the company say Mr. Icahn was able to block one major business venture and delay another for months. The company even holds board meetings in New York, because Mr. Icahn won’t travel to its Dallas headquarters.

The Times says his board power could mean a better chance of a Microsoft deal.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.