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Labor Force Continues to Lose Women as 275,000 Leave in January

  • National Women’s Law Center finds that 275,000 women left the U.S. workforce in January by quitting, losing their job, or stopping their search for work
  • Women, in particular women of color, are overrepresented in sectors that have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and are more likely to depart due to child care issues
  • A total of 2.3 million women have left the labor force since the pandemic began, and women make up more than half the job losses brought on by the crisis

Despite making gains in January hires, hundreds of thousands of women left the labor force in January. A new report by the National Women’s Law Center says women’s participation rate in the United States workforce is at its lowest point in more than three decades.

Based on the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the NWLC determined that 275,000 women left the labor force in January by losing their job, quitting, or ceasing their efforts to find a job. Fifty-seven percent of women are participating in the labor market, the lowest rate since 1988.

A total of 2.3 million women have left the labor force since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 1.8 million men. Women have lost 5.3 million net jobs since the pandemic began, 53.8 percent of the total.

The unemployment rate for women over the ages of 20 was 6 percent in January, down from 6.3 percent in December. The drop was driven in part by women choosing to exit the workforce, and the rate was nearly double the pre-pandemic women’s unemployment rate of 3.1 percent in February 2020. About two in five women had been out of work for six months or longer.

The unemployment rate was comparable for men, but higher for Black, Latino, and Asian women. Analyses have shown that the pandemic has been particularly harmful to women of color since they make up a greater share of workers in industries such as retail, health care, food service, and education, which have suffered steeper revenue and job losses due to the pandemic. These positions create further challenges in that they are often low-paid and unable to be done remotely, increasing the likelihood that a worker will quit if a school or daycare closure eliminates a child care option.

Seventeen percent of women working part-time in January were doing so involuntarily, meaning they would work full-time if given the opportunity. The rate was higher among women of color.

In January, women were more likely to be spared from job losses in the hospitality and leisure sector, accounting for only about one in five of the 61,000 jobs lost despite making up 53.2 percent of the sector’s workforce. By contrast, 54 percent of the 37,800 retail jobs were held by women, who made up only 48.6 percent of the sector’s workforce. Women made up 57.6 percent of the government workforce and accounted for all 43,000 of the gains made in this sector in January.

NWLC found that women gained 87,000 jobs in January while men lost 38,000, meaning women accounted for all of the month’s net gain of 49,000 jobs. This marked a reversal from December, when women originally accounted for all of the 140,000 jobs lost during the month; revised figures show that there were 227,000 jobs lost during the month, of which women lost 196,000.

The NWLC report also determined that 44.2 percent of the 22.3 million jobs lost at the beginning of the pandemic have not returned, including a similar share of the 12.2 million women’s jobs lost between February and April 2020.

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