Women on the Front Lines

August Jobs Report: Recovery is Slowing Down, Especially for Women

Equity, Impact Lab, Jobs Report, Women on the Front Lines

On September 4, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their monthly jobs report for August, showing the U.S. economy gained 1.4 million jobs. While there is some good news in the report, such as the increase in labor force participation, we are far from out of this crisis. And once again, women and people of color are being left behind in the recovery.

We remain 11.5 million jobs below where we were in February at the start of the pandemic – and as in past recessions, Black workers are seeing the slowest decreases in unemployment.

Workers of color consistently have higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts. Black men and women are experiencing the highest unemployment rates at 13.2 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Latinx and Hispanic men and women are also seeing higher unemployment rates at 9.8 and 10.5 percent. By comparison, the unemployment rate is 6.9 percent for white men and 7.3 percent for white women.

The bright spots in this month’s job report dim when seen through a gender lens – for example, the vast majority of the gains in labor force participation are men.

As the economy suffered in March and April, women were more likely to leave the labor force, and now that jobs are coming back, women are also less likely to rejoin the workforce. Women are 66 percent of those who have dropped out of the labor force since the pandemic – meaning that prior to March, they were either employed or looking for work and are no longer doing either.

The graph below shows monthly changes in the number of workers in the labor force for men and women over 20 years old. This month, men are joining the labor force at a much faster pace than women.

Men are re-entering the labor force at a much faster pace than women in August. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Pulled from LNS11000025 and LNS11000026 data series.

The pandemic and economic crisis have made the caregiving crisis in this country impossible to ignore.

It has become clear just how much the economy relies on caregivers and how fragile and unjust the current system is.

With the lack of paid leave and support for women who care for children and/or family members, the labor force participation numbers likely reflect increasing numbers of women who have either given up on or are foregoing employment to care for their families during this global health pandemic.

To put it simply: parents can’t return to work with a lack of affordable, safe child care options, and child care centers providers are scrambling to reopen and stay open — all while their workers bear the brunt of the health and economic costs.

We know that the lack of child and elder care availability and affordability hits women’s labor force participation hardest. Research from before the crisis found that mothers performed about 60 percent of childcare. During the pandemic, 80 percent of women say they do most of the housework and homeschooling, and 70 percent most of the child care.

Private and public sector leaders also have a responsibility and opportunity to ensure working people can thrive, at work and at home.

That means providing access to paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, and child care; promoting fair pay and promotion practices; offering flexible work hours to accommodate caregiving responsibilities; and strengthening protections against sexual harassment, among other key workplace protections. It also means extending unemployment insurance for those in need and doing what we can to get the long-term unemployed back into the labor market.

Truly centering women workers in our policies and practices isn’t just the right thing to do — it is key to building a stronger and more resilient economy for all of us.