6 Reasons Why Women’s Labor Participation Just Hit a 33-Year Low

About 2.3 million women have left the labor force since the pandemic started, with the greatest percentage being among women with young children.
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Assistant Editor
June 10, 2022
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Image: Miriam Correia/Shutterstock

Today marks the 59th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act. However, women’s pay still lags behind men’s, with estimates saying it’ll be another 89 years before women and men are finally earning equal wages. But amidst the fight for equal wages, another issue has sprung up—women are leaving or being pushed out of the workforce in droves.

A 2022 report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that the percentage of women participating in the workforce (working or looking for work) has fallen to 56.2 percent, the lowest rate since 1987, and nearly four percentage points below the peak of 60 percent in 1999.

These numbers roughly shake out to 2.3 million women who have left the labor force since the pandemic. The largest percentage are women with young children, especially mothers of color. In fact, according to The Mom Project, 43 percent of highly skilled women leave the workforce after becoming mothers.

These staggering numbers are leaving many searching for why moms, especially Black and Latinx moms, are being pushed out or leaving the workforce, and what our society can do to help.

The Mom Project’s free upskilling program RISE, alongside Werklabs, recently surveyed 520 program participants, with 90 percent female and 70 percent people of color. The results revealed a list of six reasons why women and moms of color might not be returning to work:

  1. Lack of flexibility. Ninety-four percent of participants cited lack of flexibility as a significant pain point. According to Employee Benefits News, Chandra Sanders, the director of RISE, notes that many women of color are underrepresented in the tech industry, where remote and flexible roles are more common. But an employer doesn’t have to be a tech giant to be considerate of parents’ time and responsibilities.
  2. Low-paying jobs. Over 70 percent of RISE participants noted finances as a barrier to their return to work. Flexible, high-paying jobs (ones that can support child care expenses) can be challenging to find, especially for Black and Latinx women who make as little as 65 cents to a white man’s dollar.
  3. Lack of mental health resources. Women struggle with depression at twice the rates as men, with 64 percent citing a lack of mental healthcare as one of the things holding them back from a career.
  4. Lack of connections. Sixty percent of women said that a lack of connections was holding them back from success. Not only are relationships in the professional world important, but mothers also need valuable community connections to provide support and, at times, affordable child care.
  5. Lack of career support. Fifty-six percent of women said that a lack of exposure, resources and networks makes it difficult to know what opportunities are available.
  6. Lack of child care. Many of the above pain points, including a lack of flexibility, low-paying jobs and lack of connections, can make child care difficult to come by. Fifty-four percent of participants said that a lack of affordable child care kept them from the workplace.

If companies and the government don’t work together to break down these barriers, it’s not only mothers who will suffer but the economy as a whole. According to the Center for American Progress, if moms don’t come back into the workforce, it could cost the US $64.5 billion.

Balancing work and family life isn’t always easy, but we’ve got some tips to help you manage.

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