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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Nearly a million American mothers have left the workforce during the pandemic — and many of them might not return.

Why it matters: We've dialed the clock back decades in terms of women's workplace progress.

The backstory: Women in the U.S. hit a milestone in February 2020 when, for the first time in history, they held the majority of non-farm payroll jobs, outnumbering men in the workforce.

  • One year later, women's labor force participation is at a 33-year low.
  • Putting mothers — many of whom were in the heights of their careers before the pandemic — back to work is vital to the health of the U.S. economy, experts say.

The big picture: The chasm between women's and men's unemployment numbers is driven by the difference between the pandemic experiences of working mothers and fathers, says Jed Kolko, chief economist at the jobs site Indeed.

Take a look at how the prime-age employment to population ratio — or the share of people aged 25–54 who are employed — has changed for different groups of workers.

  • The share of women aged 25–54 without kids who are employed has dropped 4.8 percentage points over the course of the pandemic. The drop is the same for men of that age without kids.
  • But when looking at men and women of prime age with kids, the drops are 3.1 points and 5.7 points, respectively. Working mothers have fared worse than any other group.

"Distance learning and child care have been huge burdens on parents — especially mothers — who have been forced to balance employment and caregiving," Kolko says.

There will be long tail effects that hurt working women and mothers long after the pandemic is over.

  • Single mothers in low-wage jobs that have been forced to quit for child care and don't have a safety net of savings are suddenly dealing with food and housing insecurity.
  • On the high end of the wage spectrum, there are lots of cases of women in office jobs who are turning down promotions, University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson says.
  • "There are a lot of women in that position right now. They're saying, 'Sorry, my kids can't handle this,'" she says. "It’s been a rough year and they’re just trying to figure out how to make it a less tough year."

And the crisis women face today also has the potential to affect future generations and their decisions to start families or strive for promotions in their careers, says Stevenson.

  • "What are the girls who are watching this thinking? Will they think kids are too hard? Will they decide not to lean in?"

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Feb 8, 2021 - Economy & Business

Jobs report is latest indicator economy doesn't have maximum employment or stable prices

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

January's nonfarm payrolls report made clear that the U.S. is not experiencing, nor is moving toward, maximum employment. The paltry 49,000 jobs added is only the tip of the iceberg of bad news the report contained.

By the numbers: The Labor Department also reported that the U.S. shed an additional 87,000 jobs in December, for a total of 227,000 jobs lost.

Men account for just 31% of Iowa's vaccinations so far

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The majority of Iowans who have received the COVID-19 vaccine are women, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Why it matters: Overlooking any group or segment of our community in vaccine distribution could exacerbate death rates among those groups and thwart pandemic recovery for all of us.

35 mins ago - World

China's Xi swipes at U.S.: "Countries shouldn't impose rules on others"

China's President Xi Jinping during a video summit in Beijing on Friday. Photo: Li Xueren/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's President Xi Jinping on Tuesday warned against "bossing others around or meddling in others' internal affairs" and called for "more fair and equitable" global governance.

Why it matters: Xi's thinly veiled swipes at the U.S. during an online speech at the Boao Forum for Asia economic forum come at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and Washington over trade, human rights and China's strategic and economic ambitions.