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Labor Data Shows Signs of Women Returning to the Workforce

  • An estimated 321,000 women rejoined the labor force in December by getting a job or looking for one
  • Women were more likely to lose or leave their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Women’s labor participation rate improves, but remains below pre-pandemic levels

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

More than 300,000 women joined the labor force in December, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This reflects a gradual return of women to the workforce after a major exodus during the COVID-19 pandemic, though their labor participation rate remains below pre-pandemic levels.

An estimated 321,000 joined the labor force during the month, meaning they were either working or looking for a job. By contrast, 105,000 men left the labor force. Women accounted for 24 percent of the 199,000 jobs added to the U.S. economy in December.

Women’s labor participation rate grew from 57.5 percent to 57.8 percent. This remained below the pre-pandemic labor participation rate of 59.3 percent.

  • Women have been more likely than men to suffer job losses due to the pandemic, accounting for 59.2 percent of the net 3.6 million jobs lost since February 2020; they have also been more likely to leave the labor force due to factors such as child care necessities
  • The National Women’s Law Center said December’s trends are a good sign, with women likely being drawn back into the labor force as schools resume in-person classes and companies ramp up hiring, but that disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could hinder progress
  • The group noted some ongoing challenges, such as an increase in unemployment among Black women and the slow pace of women’s jobs recovery, which at its current rate won’t recoup the 2.1 million jobs women have lost since February 2020 for nearly four years

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