🚗 🚙 Turn your trusty old car into trustworthy journalism Learn more

Women’s labor force participation rate reaches an all-time high

Samantha Fields Jun 2, 2023
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
When COVID hit, many women exited the workforce as the service sector collapsed and their children were schooled at home. Now, women's employment is bouncing back. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Women’s labor force participation rate reaches an all-time high

Samantha Fields Jun 2, 2023
Heard on:
When COVID hit, many women exited the workforce as the service sector collapsed and their children were schooled at home. Now, women's employment is bouncing back. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Another piece of data from Friday’s jobs report that’s worth talking about: The labor force participation rate for women who are considered to be of “prime working age” — in the mid-20s to mid-50s — just hit an all-time high

This is a bit momentous, considering what happened in those early months of the pandemic, when so many women — moms, especially — dropped out of the workforce or lost their jobs. There was a lot of concern that it would take many years for women to find their way back. 

When COVID hit, two events occurred that drove millions of women out of the workforce, said Lauren Bauer at the Brookings Institution: “First, the service sector collapsed, and women are disproportionately employed in the service sector.”

Also, when schools and child care centers closed, she said, “women and children were forced to make hard decisions.” More women than men left their jobs to take care of kids.  

But Rose Khattar from the Center for American Progress said since schools and the economy reopened, she has seen “women’s employment slowly but surely recovering.” And now, it’s reached this record high. 

She said there are two main factors driving the recovery.   

“The labor market is really strong and tight, which means, you know, employers are like kinda competing to get workers,” she said.

This has benefited women, especially in the service sector. Plus, for women who work in fields where remote work is an option (mainly college-educated women), flexibility is important.

“Flexibility has obviously played a huge role, in that it’s allowed women who have the opportunity to be able to work from home and potentially also provide caregiving responsibilities that they still would have to do regardless,” Khattar said.

The speed of women’s return to the workforce has surprised many experts. It’s good news, per Jasmine Tucker at the National Women’s Law Center, but there is a caveat.

“We know that the economy was not working for a lot of people in February 2020, and especially those who are in these low-paid jobs without benefits,” she said. That’s still the case today, Tucker added, especially for women.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.