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Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Decades of the slow economic progress women made catching up to men evaporated in just one year.

Why it matters: As quickly as those gains were erased, it could take much, much longer for them to return — a warning Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued today.

  • What they're saying: "We're really concerned about permanent scarring from this crisis," Yellen said at an International Women's Day event — referring to the possibility that scores of female workers who left the labor force won't return.

The risk: "When women are not maximized in the labor force, they are earning less, they are spending less, there's less tax revenue. And there's less economic growth," Nicole Goldin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Program, tells Axios.

Catch up quick: Female workers haven't been hit this disproportionately hard by a recession in at least 40 years.

  • In the U.S., the workforce gender gap shrank in prior downturns — a quirk that only happened because men lost their jobs at a higher rate, which brought them closer to the level of female workers.

What's happening: This time, the global lockdown annihilated industries that are heavily concentrated with female workers: retail, restaurants, etc. (That also meant female-owned small businesses — also concentrated in these areas — saw more grim prospects.)

  • In addition, more often than not, women gave up jobs to take care of children as schools and daycare centers closed.

How it played out: Employment loss for women around the world stands at 5% — over a full percentage point higher than that for men, according to the latest estimates by the International Labour Organization.

  • "Other advanced economies have managed a lot better than the United States," Simeon Djankov, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), tells Axios.
  • The U.S., Canada, Italy and Japan are among the other advanced countries that saw worse labor force declines for female workers.
  • A group of other countries — including the U.K., Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands — actually saw the gender gap in their labor force in aggregate shrink by 0.9 percentage points.
  • That’s partly because of government programs that shored up female-dominated sectors or supported child care services, according to a report released by PIIE today.

The pandemic erased 30 years of progress for the U.S. female workforce in the space of a few months.

  • The proportion of women with jobs — or actively looking for one — hasn't been this low since the late 1980s.
  • As of February, the number is 55.8% — slightly better than the lowest point since the pandemic (55.3%).

The inequality within the inequality: The U.S. unemployment rate for white women is 5.2% — lower than the national 6.2% rate.

  • The story is much different for women of color: Black women have an unemployment rate of 9.1%. It's 8.6% for Hispanic/Latino women. The gaps with white women are wider now compared to pre-pandemic.
  • Of note: Wages for front-line Asian American/Pacific Islander female workers were up to 21% less than their white male counterparts, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute said today.

The bottom line: Economists say the she-cession threatens to hobble a full post-pandemic recovery.

Go deeper

California wildfire explodes in size, destroys historic town

Battalion Chief Sergio Mora looks on as the Dixie fire burns through downtown Greenville, Calif. on Aug. 4, 2021. Photo: Josh EdelsonAFP via Getty Images

The small Sierra town of Greenville, California, was heavily damaged on Wednesday night into early Thursday as the Dixie Fire surged northward amid high winds, extremely dry air and hot temperatures.

The latest: The Dixie Fire, California's biggest blaze, continued to threaten communities in Plumas County into Thursday night, as more mandatory evacuation orders were issued in the region.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Top labor leader Richard Trumka dies unexpectedly at 72

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who led the largest federation of unions in the country for over a decade, has died at 72.

The big picture: Trumka began working as a coal miner in 1968 and would go on to dedicate his life to the labor movement, including as president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO beginning in 2009.

Biden signs bill awarding Congressional Gold Medals to officers who responded to Jan. 6 attack

President Biden, joined by Vice President Harris, lawmakers and members of law enforcement and their families, signs legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to law enforcement in the Rose Garden. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden signed legislation awarding Congressional Gold Medals to the law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Why it matters: The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress' "highest expression of national appreciation," notes the New York Times.