January jobs report shows 'troubling' signs for women's economic recovery amid omicron surge
The U.S. economy added a whopping 467,000 jobs in January despite a surge in omicron coronavirus cases, according to the Bureau of Statistics' latest jobs report, showing promising signs of recovery amid the ongoing pandemic and staffing shortages.
Yet much of that growth was driven by men: New research from the National Women's Law Center shows that over one million men joined the labor force in January, compared to just 39,000 women.
Men have now recouped all of their job losses since the pandemic began, while women are struggling to catch up. There are nearly 1.1 million fewer women in the labor force now compared to February 2020, the NWLC reports.
"This report was not a pleasant surprise," Jasmine Tucker, the NWLC's director of research, tells CNBC Make It. "While I was happy to see the boom in hiring, the sharp contrast in men and women working or seeking jobs is baffling and incredibly troubling."
This gap likely reflects omicron-driven disruptions to school and child care over the past six weeks, as women tend to be the ones to leave their jobs or reduce their hours to look after children. Mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to take on more housework and child-care responsibilities during the pandemic, according to September's "Women in the Workplace" report from McKinsey and LeanIn.Org.
Of the 467,000 jobs added to the economy last month, 188,000 (about 40%) went to women. The NWLC estimates that it would take about 10 months of growth at January's rate, however, for women to recoup all of their pandemic job losses.
Retail trade and leisure and hospitality saw significant job gains last month, adding 61,400 and 151,000 new positions, respectively. Women only gained 52,000 jobs in leisure and hospitality, or about 34%, but took 45,000, or about 73%, of the jobs added in retail trade. Women lost 17,000 jobs in the education and health services sector, while men gained 29,000.
"It's clear from these numbers that child-care and school closures have hardly impacted men," Tucker says. "Women are shouldering the impact of these disruptions, and it's leading to a huge disparity in their ability to work."
Two groups experienced a drop in unemployment last month: Black women (6.2% to 5.8%) and Asian women (3.3% to 3.2%), while the unemployment rates for white and Latina women remained unchanged at 3.1% and 4.9%.
While it's difficult to predict when in-person child care and school will resume full-time, hiring managers can help mitigate some of the obstacles keeping women from working.
Julie Vogtman, the director of job quality and senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, told CNBC Make It last month that offering employees higher wages and more paid time off would be a great start – but flexible work schedules could be a "game-changer" for keeping women in the workforce, and enticing more to return, she said, as it could help them better manage caregiving responsibilities.
Otherwise, Tucker notes, "women are going to continue to bear the brunt of pandemic job losses." She continues: "I would hope that almost two years into this crisis, we would be closer to where we were pre-pandemic – we want women to recoup their losses just like men have at this point, but that's not happening, and that's a real crisis."
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