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865,000 women dropped out of the workforce in September

Staggering job loss figures disproportionately impact women of color

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The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy and the way we work, and this appears to be especially true for women struggling to care for children and provide for them at the same time. In the midst of a forced e-learning crisis and general health crisis of epic proportions, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures from Friday show that 865,000 women left the workforce in September.

Especially troubling is the fact that this figure surpasses the total number of jobs added to the economy (661,000) last month. Also note that only 216,000 men left the workforce in September, further proving women are taking a greater economic hit when it comes to their careers.

The news is particularly bad for women of color. BLS figures show that of the 865,000 women who left the workforce in September, 324,000 were Latina and 58,000 were Black women.

Women hit especially hard by the pandemic

According to an analysis from the National Women’s’ Law Center, women have suffered more job losses from the pandemic overall. Since February of 2020, women have lost nearly 5.8 million jobs, the study notes, which accounts for 53.9% of all job losses combined since the crisis began.

Further, even as unemployment figures dropped to 7.9% in September, unemployment rates still remain high for Black and Latina women, who were unemployed at rates of 11.1% and 11%, respectively.

When you consider most women take on more of the household responsibilities and child-rearing, it’s easy to see why this is the case. After all, a 2020 report published by Lean In showed that women in relationships with men were more than three times as likely to handle the bulk of childcare and housework during the pandemic. For single mothers without any help, the challenges are even greater.

By and large, many women are finding it impossible to help kids learn at home while continuing to work at home or anywhere else. Add in the stress of having an entire family quarantined, and many women, mothers especially, are finding themselves in a lose-lose situation where something has to give.

Future of women in the workforce

While some women who left the workforce in September were laid off, others left on their own terms. The Lean In study points to an array of reasons many employees, and especially women, are choosing to downsize or even end their careers. This includes lack of flexibility at work, feeling they always have to be “on,” worrying their performance is lacking due to household obligations and feeling continuously blindsided by factors beyond their control.

Of those surveyed, women still considering making a change in their careers due to the pandemic were weighing cutting their work hours (17%), switching to a less demanding job (16%), taking a leave of absence (15%), going from full-time to part-time (8%) and simply leaving the workplace altogether (7%). Meanwhile, fathers were considering these options at considerably lower rates: cutting their work hours (9%), switching to a less demanding job (11%), taking a leave of absence (9%), going from full-time to part-time (2%) and simply leaving the workplace altogether (4%).

Experts worry companies will lose women in important positions, and especially in leadership positions in firms nationwide. Data from the National Women’s Law Center shows female senior-level employees are frequently held to higher performance standards than men, and “they may be more likely to take the blame for failure – so when the stakes are high, as they are now, senior-level women could face higher criticism and harsher judgment.”

Women have made great strides in the workforce over the last few decades and even the last few years, yet COVID-19 appears to be hindering that progress. We can only hope employers begin offering more resources and support.

The National Women’s Law Center says companies who identify the problems and address them have the best chance at helping their employees get through this difficult time in a way that is “flexible and sustainable” for everyone.

“If not, the consequences could badly hurt women, business and the economy as a whole,” they write.

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