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Rebuilding the Economy Requires Rebuilding Care Infrastructure

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ November jobs report shows that the economy is continuing to rebuild. Overall, unemployment continues to tick down, while employment and labor force participation rates are increasing in the aggregate. While full recovery from the unprecedented economic shock of the pandemic will take time, it is encouraging that the economy is rebounding more quickly than the Congressional Budget Office predicted. These beneficial changes in job creation and employment show that the Biden-Harris administration’s policies are moving us in the right direction. However, there is still more work to be done.

Employment loss by month relative to February 2020

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The economy will never be able to fully recover if half of the working age population – women, who experienced the majority of pandemic job losses – are left behind. And in spite of the positive changes seen in this month’s jobs data, many of the concerning trends for women observed last month continue to be true.  

Adult women’s employment and labor force participation rates have increased, which is a very good sign. But there are still 2 million fewer employed adult women than there were pre-pandemic, compared to 1.5 million adult men. Adult Black women’s unemployment rate dropped by 2.0 percentage points, which on its face is a big step in the right direction. But this change was caused both by an encouraging increase in Black adult women’s employment and a very discouraging decrease in labor force participation, which means they are no longer looking for work. Black women continue to have the greatest employment losses relative to February 2020.

Chart: Employment losses by sex, race & ethnicity: Nov. 2021, relative to Feb. 2020

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Women workers are still down 2.3 million jobs (3.0%), including over 700,000 education and health services jobs since the pandemic began, with women’s employment fully recovered in only four industries: utilities, professional and business services, construction, and transportation and warehousing. Employment in child day care services, where 96% of employees are women, actually decreased slightly between October and November, with the overall industry in much the same place it has been for the last several months. 1 in 10 child day care service workers have either lost their jobs, left the labor force or moved to another field.

While the data on public and private sector education jobs is less clear-cut than that on child care, education jobs are also down from where they were before the pandemic. These jobs encompass not only teaching and administrative positions, but all the support staff like cafeteria workers, bus drivers and afterschool program workers who help keep schools functioning and children cared for. As we are seeing across the economy, the problem is not a lack of workers who are able to do these jobs but rather that the low pay is an insufficient draw for the work required.

The decrease in education and childcare jobs has a doubly negative impact on women, since they both hold the majority of these jobs and are more likely than men to be the family members who scale back on paid work when care for children isn’t available. But the care and supervision of children is not, nor should it be, a women’s issue. Men are parents too, and the availability of child care – whether provided by mothers or other unpaid family members, or by paid professionals – is a necessary component of the American economy. The workers who care for children in day cares, on school grounds, and in afterschool camps and programs, are an indispensable part of working parents’ ability to maintain employment.

This is why the investments in child care, pre-kindergarten, and Head Start contained in the Build Back Better Act are so vitally important to the ongoing economic recovery. Learn more about how Building Back Better is supporting America’s families.

 

Janelle Jones is the chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor.  Sarah Jane Glynn is senior advisor of the Women’s Bureau. Follow the Women’s Bureau on Twitter at @WB_DOL.

 

 

 

Plain text charts

Employment losses by sex, race, and ethnicity: November 2021 employment relative to February 2020 employment

Population group

Percent

Black men

-1.4%

Black women

-4.2%

Hispanic men

1.2%

Hispanic women

-2.4%

White men

-2.1%

White women

-3.2%

Note: Seasonally adjusted employment of women and men ages 20 and older. Estimates for Asian women and men not available.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey

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Employment loss by month relative to February 2020 employment

Month

Women

Men

Feb. 20

0.0%

0.0%

Mar. 20

-2.1%

-1.8%

Apr. 20

-17.0%

-13.9%

May. 20

-14.6%

-11.8%

Jun. 20

-10.9%

-9.4%

Jul. 20

-9.6%

-8.7%

Aug. 20

-7.6%

-6.6%

Sep. 20

-8.1%

-6.1%

Oct. 20

-6.4%

-5.2%

Nov. 20

-5.9%

-5.5%

Dec. 20

-6.0%

-5.2%

Jan. 21

-6.0%

-5.0%

Feb. 21

-5.9%

-5.0%

Mar. 21

-5.1%

-5.0%

Apr. 21

-5.2%

-4.8%

May. 21

-4.7%

-4.8%

Jun. 21

-4.6%

-4.5%

Jul. 21

-4.1%

-3.9%

Aug. 21

-3.9%

-3.4%

Sep. 21

-3.7%

-2.8%

Oct. 21

-3.6%

-2.6%

Nov. 21

-2.8%

-1.9%

Note: Seasonally adjusted employment of women and men ages 20 and older.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey

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