Closing The Gap

More than 200,000 women joined the labor force in March: ‘We're heading in the right direction’

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The U.S. economy added 431,000 jobs last month despite high inflation and fears of a recession, according to the Bureau of Statistics' latest jobs report.

March also marked the second straight month of significant job growth for women, who gained about 63% of the new positions created, reports the National Women's Law Center.

It would take about four months of growth at March's rate for women to recoup all of their job losses since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the NWLC estimates, adding that women account for 70% of the jobs lost in the last two years.

Still, women made significant progress in their economic recovery last month: 249,000 women joined the labor force, bringing the total number of women missing from the labor force down from 1.1 million to 872,000.

"March was a solid month for women coming back to the labor force," Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the NWLC, tells CNBC Make It. "We're heading in the right direction, even if women have a long way to go before fully recovering from the pandemic."

Women gained jobs across major sectors in March, including leisure and hospitality, government and the education and health services sector, according to NWLC's analysis.

Such industries have benefited from a drop in Covid cases and the lifting of restrictions throughout the U.S., Tucker points out, giving these women-led sectors a boost in hiring.

Fewer Covid cases also means less school and child-care closures, which allows women to "get back to work," she adds. "Women tend to shoulder child-care responsibilities, and if pandemic conditions improve, they're no longer in a precarious position where they have to leave their jobs or the workforce to handle things at home."

Several groups saw a drop in unemployment last month: Latinas (4.8% to 4.2%), Asian women (2.7% to 2.6%) Black women (6.1% to 5.5%) and white women (3.1% to 2.8%). The unemployment rate for all people was 3.6%, lower than economists' expectations of 3.7%.

Meanwhile, about 20,0000 men left the labor force in March, driven by departures from Black men and Latinos.

Companies pushing to return to the office in the weeks ahead, however, could be a "real point of tension" for working mothers, Tucker says, especially as most states still lack affordable child care.

Women spend a disproportionate amount of time handling housework and child-care responsibilities, and according to Pew Research Center, women are more likely than men to adjust their careers for family.

"Even if women can find available child care, can they afford to go back to work and pay for it?" Tucker says. "The pandemic often feels like 'Groundhog Day' and women are reliving the same challenges over and over: 'What am I comfortable with? How do I keep my family safe?'"

Check out:

These 5 industries have the biggest gender pay gaps—here's why

There are signs a recession could be on the way. Here are some ways to protect your savings

Nearly 50% of women consider themselves 'very ambitious' as they regain jobs lost during the pandemic

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I work at the most iconic Ukrainian restaurant in New York City
I work at the most iconic Ukrainian restaurant in New York City