Report: Nearly 1.1 Million Women Have Left Labor Force Since COVID

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

February 24, 2022

Despite recent job gains, nearly 1.1 million fewer women are participating in the US workforce compared with February 2020. That was one of several key findings in a report from the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) that highlighted uneven labor force participation across the genders since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drawing on the January monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the NWLC found that although the economy gained 467,000 jobs in January 2022, nearly 60% of those jobs went to men. According to the NWLC, men have now fully recouped their labor force losses since February 2020, while women lag behind. The reasons for the gender imbalance may relate to caregiving responsibilities that are often more heavily borne by women, compounded by school and childcare disruptions from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Black and Latina women have been even more severely impacted, according to the report. While the unemployment rate for women overall in January 2022 was 3.6%, it was 5.8% for Black women and 4.9% for Latina women. Among white men, the unemployment rate was just 3.2%.

However, the NWLC report emphasizes that the reported unemployment rate does not tell the full story, as it does not include those who have left the labor force and are no longer seeking work. If the 1.1 million adult women who have exited the workforce since February 2020 were counted among the unemployed, the unemployment rates for women in January 2022 would have been:

  • 5.0% for women as a whole;
  • 7.3% for Black women; and
  • 5.4% for Latina women.

While women's labor force participation lags, many organizations are struggling to fill job openings. December 2021 data from the BLS indicated that there were 10.9 million job openings nationwide, and 4.3 million employees voluntarily quit their jobs that month - only slightly down from the November 2021 high of 4.5 million. A recent XpertHR survey of HR professionals at 351 US employers identified recruiting and hiring as the most challenging issue for 2022, with attracting top talent pinpointed as a particular area of concern.