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Data Deep Dive: A Decline of Women in the Workforce – uschamber.com

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Data show that women who left the labor force during the pandemic, often to take on childcare duties, have not yet returned.

Stephanie Ferguson
Director, Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Isabella Lucy
Graphic Designer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Published
April 27, 2022
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Right now, we have over 10 million jobs open in the U.S., yet only around 6 million unemployed workers. On top of that, labor force participation does not yet match what it was before the pandemic.
Our America Works Data Center captures national workforce trends. This page captures the latest data on women in the workforce—and the impact of childcare breakdowns on workforce participation—in the wake of the pandemic.
Both men and women suffered a 3% drop in labor force participation at the height of the pandemic. But more than two years later, men have returned to work at a higher rate than women. Today, women’s labor force participation is still a full percentage point lower than it was pre-pandemic, meaning an estimated one million women are missing from the labor force.
Historically, men have higher rates of unemployment compared to women. But in April 2020 as the pandemic took hold, women’s unemployment surpassed men’s by 4.1% and has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. Women’s labor force participation is continuing to decline, while women’s unemployment rate has remained steady since December 2021.
Several factors have contributed to women’s declining labor force participation. Here’s one: women are more likely to work in the roles that were most vulnerable during pandemic shutdowns.
Women are more likely to work in leisure and hospitality, and education and health services, than their male counterparts—and are 10% more likely than men to work in lower-paying roles. During the pandemic, customer-facing, lower-paying roles in those industries like cashiers, retail salespersons, and waitresses were likely to experience layoffs.
Women also dominate job fields that were essential during the pandemic like nurses and teachers. However, data shows that burnout is one factor that led women to leave their occupation or search for a new career with better pay or increased flexibility. Many women left the labor force altogether.
In the last two years, 16,000 childcare centers were forced to close their doors and many more were operating at limited capacity. This diminished the accessibility and affordability of childcare across the nation. In many cases, parents—most often women— stayed home to care for their children.
Half of all workers and nearly 60% of parents cite lack of childcare as their reason for leaving workforce.
More than half (58%) of parents said they are unable to find childcare, and 26% said they are unable to afford it. As of February 2022, childcare remains a top reason as to why workers are quitting their jobs.
When childcare is not accessible and one parent must discontinue working, the logical choice most often comes down to who is earning less. Women earn less than men – about $172 a week less.
Once a woman leaves work to care for her child, reentering the workforce becomes more challenging. A recent U.S. Chamber survey revealed that nearly one in three (32%) unemployed women are not returning to work because they must provide care for a family member.
Also, families may find that they don’t need two incomes. Twenty-eight percent of women are not returning to work because they are able to financially rely on other family members.
Even when childcare is available, it is often so expensive that it does not financially benefit a parent to work and pay for childcare simultaneously. For instance, a woman’s average annual salary is around $48,000 a year. High-quality childcare for an infant can reach more than $40,000 a year in some areas.
The lack of accessible, affordable childcare affects more than just parents. The sector generates its own economic output and ensures that working parents can go to work. Without a healthy childcare system, revenue and economic output suffer.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has said that access to childcare is a workforce issue—and has developed solutions for businesses and working parents. The Foundation’s Employer Roadmap: Childcare Solutions for Working Parents proposes ways in which businesses can lead in solving this crisis.
The U.S. Chamber and U.S. Chamber Foundation are helping employers discover and develop talent through the America Works Initiative. For more information, contact Jenna Shrove at jshrove@uschamber.com.
Explore the latest data on job openings, unemployment, labor force participation, quit rates, and more, paired with in-depth analysis of the trends.
Director, Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Graphic Designer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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