After strong job growth in July, the economy slowed, adding just 235,000 jobs in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is far lower than the 720,000 new hires economists had predicted, as an increase in Covid-19 cases disrupts the economic recovery.
Of the 235,000 jobs created, only 11.9% went to women, marking a sharp decline in female employment growth from July, reports the National Women’s Law Center. There has also been a worrying drop in the number of women working or actively seeking employment. Women’s labor force participation rate fell to 57.4% from 57.5% in July – before the pandemic, it had not fallen so low since 1988.
“It wasn’t a good month for jobs, especially right after July when we saw over a million jobs added,” Jasmine Tucker, research director at the NWLC. “But the pandemic has made the market really volatile, so we should expect the economy to change from month to month.”
Given the pandemic’s economic toll on women, the NWLC estimates that women would need about nine years of job gains in August to return to pre-pandemic employment levels.
The highly contagious delta variant has made it even more difficult for working mothers to re-enter the workforce, says Tucker, as schools close and there is still a lack of child care services.
Another factor that could make women’s unemployment worse is the expiration of federal unemployment benefits, which are expected to expire for around 7.5 million people on September 6, Tucker adds. Once these benefits end, “we can expect to see people’s spending drop dramatically,” says Tucker. “The reduction in spending for local businesses means these businesses will have less money to hire more workers, including women … it’s a bad cycle that could perpetuate unemployment in September.”
Women lost their jobs in several major industries in August, including leisure and hospitality; retail; and the education and health services sector, according to the NWLC analysis. “These are some of the most important sectors for women’s jobs,” Tucker said. “Unfortunately, the demand for these services could drop as Covid cases increase because people go to eat less and shop less, for example, if they are worried about getting sick.”
Women, however, accounted for 35.1% of job gains in the professional and business services sector, which includes occupations such as accounting, human resources and data research.
In August, the overall unemployment rate for women aged 20 and over fell to 4.8% from 5% in July. By comparison, the overall unemployment rate for adult males aged 20 and over fell to 5.1% in August from 5.4% in July. Black women faced an unemployment rate of 7.9% in August, up from 7.6% in July. Latinas fared slightly better, facing an unemployment rate of 6% in August, down from 6.7% in July.
But, as Tucker notes, job losses for women can have far-reaching consequences. “Women are the breadwinners, a lot of families and businesses depend on this income,” she says. “When women lose their jobs, there is less money spent in the economy and fewer jobs are added… it’s a vicious cycle we have to get out of.”
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