Closing The Gap

Women’s labor force participation rate hit a 33-year low in January, according to new analysis

Gen Zs and millennials are increasingly taking on second jobs as money concerns mount, a Deloitte survey says.
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In January, another 275,000 women dropped out of the labor force, accounting for nearly 80% of all workers over the age 20 who left the workforce last month, according to a National Women's Law Center analysis of the latest jobs report.

This brings the total number of women who have left the labor force since February 2020 to more than 2.3 million, and it puts women's labor force participate rate at 57%, the lowest it's been since 1988, according to NWLC. By comparison, nearly 1.8 million men have left the labor force during this same time period.

Many of these women, says Emily Martin, VP for education and workplace justice at NWLC, have been forced to leave the workplace due to ongoing closures of schools and day care centers. These women, she explains, are not included in the calculated unemployment rate, which is already disproportionately high for women of color.


"To be counted as unemployed, you have to be looking for work," she tells CNBC Make It. "Those who have left the labor force are no longer working or looking for work so in some ways the unemployment rate is artificially lowered by the fact that it doesn't capture these millions of women."

In January, 49,000 net jobs were added to the economy, with women gaining 87,000 jobs and men losing 38,000 jobs. Despite this positive growth for women, data from NWLC shows that these job gains do not make up for the 5.3 million jobs women have lost since the start of the pandemic and it doesn't make up for the jobs women lost in December 2020 alone.

Initially, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 140,000 jobs lost in December, with women accounting for all of those losses. However, revised figures in BLS's latest report show 227,000 jobs were lost in December, with women accounting for 196,000 of those jobs, or 86.3%.

Why do women have fewer opportunities than men?
Why do women have fewer opportunities than men?

After a dip in job growth in December, January's addition of new jobs helped to drive the overall unemployment rate down to 6.3% from 6.7%. Women, ages 20 and over, faced an unemployment rate of 6% in January, which is the same as the overall unemployment rate men ages 20 and over faced. When broken down by race, White women saw an unemployment rate of 5.1% in January, while Asian women saw an unemployment rate of 7.9%, Black women saw an unemployment rate of 8.5% and Latinas saw an unemployment rate of 8.8%. The only group with an unemployment rate higher than Latinas is Black men, who in January, had an unemployment rate of 9.4%.

"I think that it is foolish not to recognize the fact that racism, whether conscious or subconscious, is impacting some of these numbers," says Martin, while adding that women, particularly women of color, are overrepresented in industries such as retail, child care and leisure and hospitality, which have been hit hard by the pandemic. "And whether conscious or subconscious, [racism] sometimes influences decisions about who it is that gets laid off."

In addition to women of color facing high unemployment rates, data from NWLC shows that roughly 40% of women ages 20 and over had been without work for six months or longer in January. Of the women who were working last month, 17% of those over the age of 16 were involuntarily working part-time because they couldn't find full-time work. For women of color, this number was even higher with 27.9% Latinas, 24.4% Black women and 18.5% Asian women forced to work part-time.

These long periods of unemployment, as well as the increase in women dropping out of the labor force, "can really impact wages when an individual does find a [full-time] job again," says Martin, which is why she says more financial relief is crucial to the economic security of working women today.

"Those two things in particular really ring alarm bells about the impacts of the Covid recession on the wages of women, specifically women of color," she adds, "and I'm concerned about the impact it could have years from now."

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