In Return to Jobs, a Huge Gender Gap

BLS stats show 1M-plus men went back to job market in Jan. amid pandemic; only 39K women did
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2022 8:47 AM CST
In Return to Jobs, a Huge Gender Gap
Stock photo of a teacher in the classroom.   (Getty Images/Drazen Zigic)

The pandemic struck a huge blow to the American workforce, but January's jobs report brought some hopeful news, with employers adding 467,000 jobs last month. But the news appears to be better for men than for women, per Axios, which cites a "jaw-dropping" gender disparity in labor force gains amid the surge of the omicron variant. According to data released Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1 million men ages 20 and older jumped into the job market in January, either finding a job or actively looking for one. In that same age group, only 39,000 women could say the same.

Although BLS stats don't get into what was behind the huge gap, the National Women's Law Center, which published a report on the data, notes it's likely due to the "uneven caregiving responsibilities men and women have taken on in the wake of the omicron variant which caused continued school and child care disruptions." In short, women are having to stay home more to take care of the kids as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc. "We don't have the data that says 'it was because of child care,' but we can hear their voices screaming out behind the numbers," Emily Martin of the NWLC tells Axios, which notes that a dearth of child care workers at the moment isn't helping things.

In fact, a "Women in the Workplace" report cited by CNBC notes that moms are more than three times as likely as dads to be picking up the slack on housework and child care during the pandemic. In a December article, Politico also pointed out that women tend to be in jobs that are more prone to COVID restrictions (think teaching, health care), which has led to a kind of "two steps forward, one step back" pattern in them getting back into the 9-to-5, a Northeastern University professor told the site.

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Some fixes that have been suggested include employers offering flexible work schedules and higher pay, as well as possible deregulation that would reduce the adult-to-child ratio so that day care centers could take in more kids—a controversial proposal that's getting pushback from child care advocates. Meanwhile, in terms of government policy that could help alleviate things, Axios thinks things look grim on that front, as the Biden administration's Build Back Better plan appears to be off the table. "Early on in the pandemic, there were signs and hopes that these problems would be addressed," the site notes. "Now, it's clear, women are on their own." (More gender gap stories.)

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