Jun 13, 2022 - Business

Older women are leaving Iowa's workforce in droves

Change in labor force participation rate from 2019 to 2021 in Iowa 
Data: Peter Orazem, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Table: Simran Parwani/Axios Visuals

Women aged 55 and older were the biggest demographic to drop out of Iowa's workforce since the start of the pandemic, countering the national narrative that young moms are the ones staying home most, according to a labor analysis by Peter Orazem, an economist at Iowa State.

Why it matters: Iowa has faced a slower labor recovery during the pandemic and state officials have tried everything to draw people back, including cutting unemployment benefits.

State of play: The pandemic sparked a nationwide exodus of older people from the workforce, but this especially hurt Iowa because a higher portion of retirement-age Iowans choose to work.

  • In comparison, a state like Florida doesn't have as many older people working because it's a retirement-focused culture, Orazem said.

Of note: While both genders saw drops in labor participation, women left at higher rates, though there isn't a concrete answer as to why, he said.

  • One reason could be the types of jobs older women hold, which are typically more caregiving or hospitality-centered positions that don't pay as much, he noted.
  • Older women are also more likely to be the caregivers for grandchildren or aging parents, said Brad Anderson, director of AARP Iowa.

Meanwhile: Iowa's labor participation rose for women under the age of 45, unlike the rest of the U.S., Orazem said.

What they're saying: Des Moines' Mary Humphrey, 67, said she retired earlier this year from her insurance job because she wanted to spend more time with her family and felt more financially comfortable, especially with Medicare.

  • "I joined the gym, I can go for a walk. ... I like music, so I've been taking up a hobby of an app to learn how to play the piano,. I'm able to travel without having to count every single day."

The bottom line: Backfilling the jobs older women have left is going to take a long time, Orazem said.


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