Closing The Gap

Nearly 2.2 million women left the workforce between February and October, according to new analysis

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Women across the country are continuing to be hit hard by today's coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 2.2 million women leaving the labor force between February and October, according to a new analysis from the National Women's Law Center.

In October, the number of women age 20 and over working or looking for work stood at 57.2%, up from 56.8% in September, which, according to NWLC, was a 32-year-low. Overall, the average labor force participation rate for all workers in October stood at 61.7%, according to the Labor Department.

While October's overall jobs report was stronger than expected, with 638,000 jobs added and the unemployment rate falling to 6.9% from 7.9% in September, NWLC's director of research Jasmine Tucker says it's important to know that not everyone is making the same progress in today's economy.

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"When we see these job reports come out, everything looks a little better each time," she tells CNBC Make It. "And, so you sort of lose sight of the fact that 2.2 million fewer women are in the labor force now than they were in February. And if we're talking about the overall unemployment rate, it's masking differences for Black women and Latinas who have only just now come under double digits for the first time this entire pandemic."

In October, women gained 43.9% of the jobs added to the economy, despite making up 49.7% of the total workforce, according to NWLC. Black women had an unemployment rate of 9.2% and Latinas had an unemployment rate of 9%, a decrease from 11.1% and 11% in September. Though these numbers show progress in the right direction, Black women and Latinas still face an unemployment rate that is almost double what it was in February.

In addition to the overall unemployment rate masking the differences for Black women and Latinas, overall unemployment numbers also hide the fact that 14.2% of women with disabilities were unemployed in October and 9.7% of young women ages 20-24 were unemployed, with young Black women and men facing much higher unemployment rates of 15% and 20.6%, respectively. In October, young Latinas of the same age group faced an unemployment rate of 9.4% and young White men faced an unemployment rate of 9.6%, according to NWLC.

Unlike September, where more than 860,000 women left the workforce, NWLC's analysis shows a bright spot of 480,000 women re-entering the workforce in October, meaning they are either working or looking for work. But, with many of the jobs women gained being in the leisure and hospitality sector, as well as the retail trade sector, Tucker says there's a high chance that these jobs could be lost again if businesses close due to an ongoing increase in coronavirus cases.

In October, 42.5% of the jobs added to the economy were in the leisure and hospitality industry, with about 60% of these jobs going to women, NWLC reports. In the retail trade sector, 103,700 jobs were added, with women accounting for 11.4% of these job gains, despite making up 48.4% of the retail trade workforce.

Many of these jobs, Tucker says, may also be part-time roles in which women are not receiving a full-time paycheck. "So, it's like they're getting their jobs back, but they're only getting half their job back," she adds.

In addition to some women only gaining part-time work, Tucker points out that the steady decrease in overall unemployment numbers does not account for the thousands of women who have left the workforce completely during the pandemic.

"There are a lot of people who [have] reached their tipping point," she says, while adding that many women who have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic feel like 'I can't be caregiver, worker and teacher. I can't do all of these things."

To move the needle forward on more women re-entering the job market, Tucker says there needs to be a federal child-care relief package that will help child-care businesses stay afloat during this time and help employees of these business, who are predominantly women, stay financially secure.

"Obviously, we want to stop and celebrate these small steps," Tucker says in regards to overall unemployment numbers getting better. "But, we're still in a real crisis moment here, especially if we look at some of the race and gender gaps in the unemployment rate. These are real huge problems that sort of these rosy pictures aren't capturing."

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