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The COVID recession is driving more women than men from the job market

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Mother working from home with children doing their homework on the kitchen table.

Four times more women than men dropped out of the job market in September. martinedoucet/E+/Getty Images

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One of the disturbing signs in today’s jobs report was the downtick in the labor force participation rate. Basically, it means fewer people are out there even looking for work right now.

It’s a statistic with a huge gender gap: Four times more women than men dropped out of the labor force last month. That continues a trend we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic. And it’s an issue that will have long-term ramifications for the economy.

Women disproportionately hold the types of jobs that have been lost, during the pandemic, said economics professor Betsey Stevenson at the University of Michigan.

“There’s the caring jobs. The socializing jobs. The jobs where we need to interact with other people,” she said.

Also, teachers. retail workers and nurses. Women also bear more responsibility than men at home, said Yana Rodgers of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.

“In terms of the gap in doing child care and housework, that has grown even more,” she said.

A quarter of women are considering reducing hours, switching to less-demanding jobs or leaving the workforce altogether, according to a report this week from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Leaving the labor force has long-term implications for women, said Kate Bahn at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

“It reduces future income increases, it reduces retirement contributions, it reduces the ability to move up the career ladder,” she said.

Women dropping out of the workforce threatens to end decades of progress. Bahn said that women’s pay slowly starting to rise has boosted economic growth.

“And when we lose that, as we are in this current recession, we can imagine that is going to have really long-term, significant impacts on the health of our economy,” she said.

The economy will eventually bring back jobs in those industries that disproportionately employ women, said economist Sarah House at Wells Fargo.

“You look at the demographics of this country; we’re only going to need more and more health care. That’s the most female-dominated industry that there is,” she said. 

But the women who rejoin the workforce when those jobs come back will still pay a price.

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