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1.3 Million Women Have Exited Labor Force Since February as Shutdowns Continue

'It is hard to see this abating soon, and if anything could become worse as we move into fall...'

(Headline USA) Research is increasingly pointing to a retreat of working mothers from the U.S. labor force as the government shutdowns leave parents with few child care options and the added burden of navigating computer instruction.

Thousands of school districts are starting the school year with remote instruction, including most of the largest ones.

At least half the country’s child care providers are closed and may not survive the crisis without financial help to cope with implementing safety standards and reduced enrollment.

Negotiations for a bailout of the industry have stalled in Congress.

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In August, the federal jobs reports showed that women in their prime-earning years — 25 to 54 — were dropping out of the work force more than other age groups.

About 77 percent of women in that age group were working or looking for work in February, compared to 74.9% in August.

The decline is most pronounced among black women of that age range, whose participation rate is down 5 percentage points since February, compared to 4 percentage points for Hispanic women and 2 percentage points for white women.

Overall, the drop translates into 1.3 million women exiting the labor force since February.

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“We think this reflects the growing child care crisis,” BNP Paribas economists Daniel Ahn and Steven Weinberg wrote in recent report. “It is hard to see this abating soon, and if anything could become worse as we move into fall.”

Women also comprise nearly half the U.S. labor force, making their inability to work a potential boost for workers who remain in the tighter labor market.

More mothers than fathers have exited the labor force since the shutdowns began, according to research published in August by Sage Journals, which analyzed data from the Current Population Survey.

Between February and April, labor force participation fell 3.2% among mothers with children younger than 6, and 4.3% for those with children 6 to 12.

Fathers of children under 12 also left the workforce, but at lower rates, said Landivar, who co-authored the report.

In a separate study, the same researchers found mothers are cutting back on working hours more than fathers.

Mothers of children under 12 were working more than six fewer hours a week than fathers in April, compared to less than five fewer hours in February, according to the study, which looked at sub-sample of heterosexual married men and women from the CPS, a monthly survey of 60,000 households sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We already knew there was a large gender inequality in the labor force, and the pandemic just makes this worse,” Landivar said.

Women make up a majority of the country’s teachers, nurses, child care workers, social workers, librarians, bookkeepers, waitresses, cashiers and housekeepers, according to federal labor figures.

Mothers in particular are the majority of the country’s teachers, nurses and child care workers.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.

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