Sep 21, 2023 - Economy

New moms are working at staggeringly high rates

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Note: Includes women ages 16 to 50; Chart: Axios Visuals

The percentage of women who recently gave birth and remained part of the workforce reached a decade-plus high-water mark last year, per new census data.

Why it matters: Motherhood often knocks women out of the labor force, at least temporarily — slowing their career and earnings growth and contributing to the gender pay gap.

By the numbers: 66.6% of U.S. women who gave birth in the previous 12 months were in the labor force as of 2022, per the latest American Community Survey.

  • That's compared with 66.5% in 2021, and 61.6% in 2010.

Driving the news: Remote and flexible work is making it easier for new moms to juggle both parenting and their careers, Axios' Emily Peck has reported. (In fact, the workplace gender gap is at a record low.)

  • That's true for new dads, too — but women tend to bear the brunt of work/life priority changes brought on by parenthood.

Between the lines: One complicating factor in all of this: the skyrocketing cost of child care, which is driven in part by a lack of supply and low caretaker pay.

  • As care gets more expensive, more and more families are put in the difficult position of deciding whether it makes sense for both parents to work, or for one to stay home and watch the kids.
  • Often, it's mothers who wind up staying home — in part because they likely make less to begin with.

Yes, and: Vital pandemic-era federal funding for child care centers is about to dry up, likely deepening the affordability crisis as supply is further outstripped by demand.

  • "70,000 child care centers, looking after 3.2 million children, may close after the funding runs out, according to one widely cited estimate from The Century Foundation," Emily reports.

What we're watching: Whether this trend continues into the fully post-pandemic years.

  • Some employers are desperately trying to drag workers back to the office, but are finding mixed success as many employees embrace a lifestyle that affords better flexibility — whether to raise a family, pursue a hobby or simply avoid a stressful commute.
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