Updated Feb 8, 2022 - Economy

Women's labor force participation still lagging

woman on laptop

Stefan Wermuth/ Getty Images

Editor's note: The headline, graphic and story were corrected to reflect that BLS data from January cannot be compared to the prior month due to an annual re-weighting of employment numbers based on the latest population data.

Women are still struggling to get back to work, and the Omicron variant may have made that more difficult.

Driving the news: Men's labor force participation rate was up to 70% in January, according to numbers from the Labor Department released Friday. The women's rate is 58%.

Why it matters: Issues with schools and daycare centers kept women, who are typically primary caregivers to children, out of the workforce throughout the pandemic — and it's still happening.

  • This holds back the economic recovery, keeping women on the sidelines at a time when companies are desperate to hire.
  • Women with young children at home, who might have considered going back to work, likely couldn't because of unstable school and child care schedules.

What's next: Women are in a tough spot, as there's still a shortage of child care workers and the possibility of school scheduling snafus with future variants.

  • There is no real policy fix on the horizon, now that Build Back Better is dead.
  • Child care providers operate on tight margins and don't pay well, and in a tight labor market they're having a hard time finding workers — fueling the crisis.
  • One state's solution is to deregulate its daycare centers, giving child care workers more children to look after; a widely criticized move that could put children's safety in danger, as Jonathan Cohn reports.

Yes, but: The situation has improved versus September 2020, when hundreds of thousands of women left the workforce even as kids went back to school.

  • We'll know more as the year progresses. But it's difficult to compare January employment numbers to the prior month because of technical issues with how the BLS weights the data, as economist Justin Wolfers explains.

Our thought bubble: The pandemic exacerbated long simmering issues that American parents, particularly women, face when it comes to managing work and family. Early on in the pandemic, there were signs and hopes that these problems would be addressed. Now, it's clear, women are on their own.

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