Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Report Highlights the Gains and Continued Challenges That Women Face in the Labor Market 2 Years Into the Pandemic

RELEASE: New CAP Report Highlights the Gains and Continued Challenges That Women Face in the Labor Market 2 Years Into the Pandemic

Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress outlines labor market trends for women, documenting the effect the pandemic continues to have on women’s economic security. In the early months of the pandemic, millions were pushed out of work due to the resulting recession; others were pulled from the labor force to attend to family needs as schools and child care centers closed.

As CAP has detailed in previous reports, the economic crisis harmed women the most, with women of color bearing an even greater burden due to their overrepresentation in low-income, front-line, and essential jobs. Two years into the pandemic, amidst a faster-than-predicted economic recovery, women’s employment is nearing pre-pandemic levels. As of February 2022, women’s employment had reached 98 percent of the pre-pandemic level. The report attributes this to robust federal programs through the American Rescue Plan, including paid leave, extended unemployment insurance, economic stimulus payments, and expanded child tax credit payments.

Still, even as men’s employment has fully recovered to its pre-pandemic level, women still face a troubling pandemic employment gap: 1.5 million fewer women are working today than in February 2020. Any discussion of how to fully restore—and, ultimately, improve—women’s employment in the United States must involve a close examination of the women falling into these gaps. The report details additional disparities among women when broken down by educational attainment and race and ethnicity:

  • Educational attainment is the biggest predictor of labor market recovery for women. By the start of 2022, employment of college-educated women had grown to 4.1 percent above pre-pandemic levels, but employment levels for a woman with a high school education or less was 5.4 percent lower than it was before the pandemic. For women with some college education, employment was down by a similar proportion—8.1 percent (1,441,000 fewer jobs).
  • Reflecting long-standing patterns of labor market discrimination, the pandemic employment gap for Black women is twice as severe as for women overall.
  • Black women, Hispanic women, and women of other races or multiple races report the most difficulties paying regular expenses, despite Black and Hispanic women having higher rates of labor force participation than women overall.

“Policies and investments such as the American Rescue Plan helped women regain jobs lost during the pandemic faster than anyone expected, but the fact that the women who have long faced labor market discrimination are the same who have not made gains at the same rate in the recovery shows the immense need for bold, progressive policy change,” said Maggie Jo Buchanan, senior director of the Women’s Initiative at CAP and co-author of the report. “Policies such as universal, high-quality child care and pre-K, paid leave programs, and strengthening equal pay protections would go a long way toward closing this gap.”

Read the report: “Ensuring Women’s Economic Security Requires More Than a Return to the Pre-Pandemic Status Quo” by Beth Almeida and Maggie Jo Buchanan

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Julia Cusick at [email protected].

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