Story at a glance

  • New data from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) reveals women who lost employment due to COVID-19 is reaching record highs.
  • Younger women between the ages of 20-24 are especially struggling with employment opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to push women out of the workforce, with new data showing that based on January 2021 data, women’s workforce participation has hit a 33-year low.

“The total number of women who have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic reached over 2.3 million last month, leaving women’s labor force participation rate – the percent of adult women who are either working or looking for work – at 57.0%,” the report wrote. “Before the pandemic, women’s labor force participation rate had not been this low since 1988.”

In contrast, nearly 1.8 million men have left the labor force since February 2020.


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Further statistics documented by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) showc concerning trends, including that 2 out of 5 of the 12.2 million jobs held by women that were lost over the course of February and April 2020 haven’t returned.

Since the onset of the pandemic, women’s employment has taken a harder hit than their male counterparts, recording over 5.3 million net job losses. 

This is largely due to the sectors most affected by the pandemic-induced recession being overrepresented by female employees. The leisure and hospitality, retail and child care sectors — all with a majority of female employees — also suffered some of the most impactful job losses.

Paradoxically, many of the women have had to leave their jobs due to the closure of school and other child care-related centers.

Emily Martin, the Vice President for education and workplace justice at NWLC, commented that these women aren’t counted in unemployment rate calculations since they aren’t technically looking for work at the moment.

“Those who have left the labor force are no longer working or looking for work so in some ways the unemployment rate is artificially lowered by the fact that it doesn’t capture these millions of women.”

Further in this undercounted group are women of color, with unemployment rates for both Black, Latina and Asian women all posting pandemic-related unemployment rates below that of white men.

Younger women are also feeling the brunt of unemployment, with over 1 in 10 (10.3 percent) of women between the ages of 20-24 reporting unemployment as of January. 

Again, this statistic rises for young Black and Latina women.

The decline of women in the workforce was addressed by President Biden on CBS News Sunday night, calling the historically high unemployment rates a “national emergency.”


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Published on Feb 08, 2021