The economic crisis is one of a handful of challenges that Americans face in 2021. Many are out of work because businesses closed permanently, cut staff or are on hiatus. Amidst this bad news, there is also the troubling trend that millions of women dropped out the workforce during the pandemic. This is one year after being over 50% of the workforce in professional or managerial positions in 2019. While unemployment numbers went down after hitting a record 15% in April 2020, the lower numbers increased due to workers leaving the workforce rather than unemployment.
Recent numbers include over 618,000 in September of 2020, which is eight times more than the 78,000 men who dropped out of the workforce during that month. The rate was even higher for Black and Latino women. Overall, half of the women who left were in the prime working age of 35-44 years old.
Why is this happening?
There are several contributing factors for why there is such a gender disparity with this economic downturn:
- Home obligations: Despite working, many still handle the majority of childcare responsibilities, including homeschooling during the pandemic and care for the elderly and performing housework.
- Pay: The pay disparity remains a stubborn issue. So, in dual-income families, it is often the spouse who earns less who drops out.
- Type of jobs: Women work in professions that have been harder hit by the pandemic, including the hospitality industry, education, entertainment and healthcare.
There is the obvious issue of losing a large part of the workforce will slow the economic recovery. There will also be those women employees who lose out on opportunities by not working, leaving their male counterparts to advance. Career advancement stalls by leaving the workforce, and it also impacts long term plans such as retirement and other financial goals.
Solutions for businesses
Businesses will need to be more proactive in courting women back into the workforce. This includes closing the wage gap. It also can mean creating or maintaining a more fluid and empathetic workplace that accommodates flexibility to balance obligations at work and home. An employment law attorney can help companies create policies that make it more desirable for attracting top-tier female talent for positions at all levels.