Fewer women returning to work

By Tom Hudson - Miami Herald

April was a big month for hiring. At least that is the expectation heading into the monthly employment report due out Friday in the week ahead.

While encouraging, the data also will likely provide support for why the Federal Reserve continues to keep interest rates low even as tens of thousands of people head back to work.

As impressive as the pandemic employment rebound is, there remains a long way to go to return to the pre-COVID-19 environment. More than 22 million jobs were lost in just two months in the spring of 2020. One out of three of those opportunities has not returned. That’s more than 8 million fewer jobs in the year since the virus hit the American economy.

Despite the rebound, women have not been returning to the workforce at the same pace as men. Almost 60 million women are not counted among the labor market. The labor participation rate among women is around the same level it was in the late 1980s. For men, it has recovered from the COVID-induced drop.

For three generations, the proportion of women entering the American workforce grew. The participation rate for women climbed steadily from the 1950s through the turn of the century and remained around 60 percent until the Great Recession. And then the pandemic.

Women living with children continue to be absent from the job market, according to Moody’s Analytics. A report in October found moms were more than twice as likely as dads to have cut back their working hours. A working paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in February was more pointed. “If mothers had experienced a recovery similar to that of non-parent women,” it estimated about 700,000 more working-aged women would have been part of the workforce at the end of last year.

As employers complain about not finding enough available workers, previously working mothers remain at home.

Expanding vaccinations and the careful reopening of schools will help. As will a patient Federal Reserve as these sidelined workers represent future economic growth potential.

By Tom Hudson

Miami Herald

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