One Year After Brunt of Pandemic Hit, 2 Million Women Remain Missing from U.S. Workforce

Even with the effects of the pandemic easing up in recent months and an ever-growing number of people returning to work, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the job outlook for men and women in America remains disappointing as a whole, especially for women. While about 355,000 men returned to the workforce in April 2021, the BLS found that about 165,000 women were left behind and stopped looking for work entirely. 

Chabeli Carrazana of nonprofit newsroom The 19th has reported that “one year from the worst economic slump for women in American history, women workers are still struggling to return back to pre-pandemic employment levels as the economic recovery continues to sputter.” 

In an interview with Carrazana, Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, said women as a whole are still struggling as a result of COVID-19. 

“They are being held back,” Bauer said. “It is not the case that women are holding back the economy.”

Bauer explained that the problem began in April 2020 when nearly 2.8 million women left the labor force — what is now considered the worst loss of employment for women in a single month since the U.S. started tracking the figures in the 1940s.

“The losses continued after that, and though 1.6 million have since rejoined the workforce, the U.S. economy is still short about 2 million women workers compared with February 2020,” Carrazana reported. 

While increased levels of vaccinations are providing a bit of relief for female workers looking for employment, Carrazana said many of the same problems that held women back in April 2020 still apply today — not just loss of jobs but also problems with finding affordable childcare, care of older adult family members, issues with paid leave and schools that have yet to reopen.

“It’s not just the pace of vaccinations, but the fact that children aren’t vaccinated,” Bauer elaborated. “Not just that the economy is starting to reopen, but there are insufficient childcare slots available. Are kids going to be able to go to camp? What are people doing with their children during the summer? Are they going to be able to start a job right now, knowing that you know school in whatever form is existing right now is about to be over?”

Those stressors are particularly clear in the unemployment rates for women of color. They remain exceedingly high at 8.6% for Black women and 7.5% for Latinas. For White women, the rate has dropped to 4.8%. Black men have the highest unemployment rate of any racial group at 10.2%. 

While numbers are bad for women across the board, Carrazana said they are especially bleak for Black women and Latinas, both of whom are “more likely to be primary breadwinners in their families and more likely to work in frontline jobs.” Without reliable access to childcare (the childcare workforce has shrunk by 15% since the start of the pandemic), many of those women will continue to remain out of work.

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.



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