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More Women Are in the Workforce Than Ever Before

More Women Are in the Workforce Than Ever Before

Women are making historic strides in the labor market; however, plenty of barriers remain in place.

Minneapolis (CNN) — The labor force participation rate for women in their prime working age hit an all-time high in June, reaching 77.8 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday as part of the monthly jobs report.

“The [overall] prime-age employment-to-population ratio continued to rise, hitting 80.9 percent, the highest level since 2001; among women, it reached 75.3 percent, the highest on record,” Julia Pollak, chief economist for ZipRecruiter, said in a note on Friday.

“Looking forward, given that employment levels remain well below what they likely would have been absent the pandemic, future jobs reports are likely to continue showing strong job growth, partly driven by catch-up hiring in the industries hardest hit by the pandemic,” Pollak wrote.

She added: “Anyone who has been to a restaurant or airport lately knows America is still understaffed.”

June was the third consecutive month that the participation rate for women between the ages of 25 and 54 has set a record high. Women’s labor force participation has rebounded from the pandemic “she-cession” and returned to its pre-pandemic form of making progressively historic labor market gains.

In the years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic, women’s labor force participation rates were rising faster than that of their male counterparts. That was due to several factors, including: Female-dominated industries, such as health care and caregiving, were among the fastest-growing industries; educational attainment for women rose substantially; and women also made greater inroads into traditionally male-dominated fields such as construction, agriculture, and repair and maintenance.

By February of 2020, the labor force participation rate for prime working-age women was 77 percent — just shy of the record 77.3 percent set during the dot-com era, BLS data shows.

But by April 2020, that rate plummeted to 73.5 percent as the pandemic froze the US economy, forcing more than 20 million people out of their jobs. As the nation recovered in the coming months, however, women didn’t return at the same levels as men.

The pandemic walloped the leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors, where women make up the majority of the workforce. Additionally, job losses and a lackluster employment recovery in the child care sector hampered workers’ ability to return to the labor market; and since caregiving responsibilities often fall to women, they were held back more as school became home-based.

The tide eventually turned.

The economic evolution and recovery from the pandemic helped accelerate favorable drivers for women to enter the workforce.

Jobs, by and large, became less rigid: Telecommuting grew more commonplace, and home-based work allowed for more flexibility in hours. That helped improve access to child care with schedules that allowed for easier drop-offs and pick-ups as well as companies that offered on-site child care. And labor shortages — largely related to the acceleration of ongoing demographic trends of Baby Boomers leaving the workforce, long Covid and health-related concerns — help to lift wages, especially for low-paying jobs.

Glass ceilings remain

Women are making historic strides in the labor market; however, plenty of barriers remain in place.

Notably, they’re still making far less than men: In 2022, women in the US earned about 82 cents for every dollar a man earned, according to a Pew Research Center report released in March.

That’s a big leap from the 65 cents that women were earning in 1982. But it has barely moved from the 80 cents they were earning in 2002.

Separately, new research shows that although women were outnumbered by men in the US workforce, women could be disproportionately affected by businesses’ adoption of generative AI: One recent analysis estimates that 79 percent of working women (nearly 59 million) are in occupations susceptible to disruption and automation. That’s compared to 58 percent of working men, according to research from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Still, there may be opportunities that may emerge as a result of businesses incorporating AI, Dana Peterson, chief economist for the Conference Board, told CNN last month.

“Over time, it will replace some jobs, but as with every other type of technological advancement that we’ve had, people have always figured out something else to do,” she said.

“Yes, it may destroy jobs in the short run, but it also creates new jobs and different opportunities. It helps people to become more productive in their existing jobs.”

— CNN’s Jeanne Sahadi contributed to this report.

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