COVID-19 Is Still Keeping Women Out of the Workforce as Companies Struggle To Fill Positions

Worried woman working at home and holding her crying little son.
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Last week’s news that the U.S. economy added a whopping 467,000 jobs in January included an amazing statistic: about 39,000 women ages 20 and older joined the labor force in January 2022 — meaning they are newly working or are looking for work — while more than 1 million men fell into the same category.

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Those numbers underscore just how big of an impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on women rejoining the labor force compared with men — a trend that has exacerbated the nation’s labor shortage, which needs as many workers as possible.

There were nearly 1.1 million fewer women in the labor force in January 2022 compared to February 2020, according to a recent fact sheet from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), which cited data from the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly jobs report.

The large disparity between the number of men and women joining the labor force in January “likely reflects the uneven caregiving responsibilities men and women have taken on in the wake of the Omicron variant, which caused continued school and child care disruptions last month,” the NWLC said in a press release.

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Of the 467,000 jobs added in January 2022, women gained only 40.3% of them, or 188,000. Men gained 279,000 jobs, or just less than 60%. The NWLC estimates that it would take six months of growth at January’s level to gain back the nearly 2.9 million jobs the economy has lost since February 2020. For women, it would take 10 months of growth at January’s level to gain back the 1.8 million jobs they’ve lost since February 2020.

“This report was not a pleasant surprise,” Jasmine Tucker, the NWLC’s director of research, told CNBC. “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.” 

Of the nearly 2.9 million jobs that have been lost since February 2020, women accounted for 63.3% of them. More than 26% of unemployed women ages 20 and over have been out of work for six months or longer. Those percentages are even higher for Black and Hispanic women. This is the case even as many companies are desperate to fill payrolls.

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While the Department of Labor doesn’t explain why the numbers vary so much between women and men, much of the answer likely lies in the fact that women take on greater child care responsibilities.

With many schools and daycare centers having to close for long stretches during the pandemic, an outsize percentage of women have had to leave the workforce to care for their kids, Axios reported. This remains a problem as variants like Omicron and Delta have led to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“It’s clear from these numbers that child care and school closures have hardly impacted men,” Tucker said. “Women are shouldering the impact of these disruptions, and it’s leading to a huge disparity in their ability to work.”

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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