Atlanta Fed Research Explores Women in the Workforce

December 20, 2022

Image of children in school drawing with their teacher Day care was hit hard by pandemic shutdowns, shedding 35.5 percent of its jobs between February and April in 2020.

Crushing job losses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic took an unprecedented toll on female workers, particularly women of color, according to a recent analysis of employment data conducted by the Atlanta Fed.

Results of the analysis are informing the creation of a program the Federal Reserve System is establishing to gather information directly from employed individuals, or those unemployed but still attached to the workforce. Results of the analysis of women's experience in the labor market and broader research on employment and labor market dynamics inform the areas of research and engagement conducted by the Atlanta Fed's Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity. One of the center's goals is to "create stronger economic opportunities through education and employment," according to Sarah Miller, a senior adviser in the Atlanta Fed's Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity.

Pandemic shutdowns had outsize impact on women workers
Photo of Sarah Millier Sarah Miller is a senior adviser in the Atlanta Fed's Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity. Photo by David Fine

The program intends to focus on low- and moderate-income workers and workers of color, and particularly on women. Women are of special interest because, during the onset of pandemic shutdowns, they lost jobs at rates disproportionate to men and experienced higher unemployment rates than male workers. In past recessions, male workers led in job losses. These results were affirmed in an analysis of the April 2022 Employment Situation Report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This report provides a point-to-point comparison of employment patterns in April 2020, the first full month of pandemic closures, and two years later, April 2022.

"This work aims to provide a broader lens through which we can understand current economic conditions and get a deeper context of workers' experiences in the labor market," Miller says in the paper. "This work focuses on if and how priorities around employment have shifted as a result of the pandemic."

Understanding the day care angle

These priorities can be wide ranging, and a better understanding of them could help determine the extent to which the jobs recovery has or has not been equitable across race, ethnicity, and gender. The role of day care for children, for instance, has become one area of particular concern in part because it represents a double whammy for women.

Photo of Melinda Pitts Melinda Pitts is the research center director of the Atlanta Fed's Center for Human Capital Studies. Photo by Ted Pio Roda

As a jobs sector largely comprising women, day care was hit hard by pandemic shutdowns. The day care industry shed 35.5 percent of its jobs from February 2020 to April 2020, and in May 2022 was still 11.1 percent below the 1 million employees recorded at the start of March 2020, according to data from the BLS. Meanwhile, in terms of providing services that would help women return to a workplace, the day care industry might not be meeting the needs of women who want to return to a job outside the household.

The Atlanta Fed's Melinda Pitts, research center director of the Bank's Center for Human Capital Studies, explored the issue of potential workers with children who haven't returned to the market in Pitts's September 2021 Policy Hub article, "Where Are They Now? Workers with Young Children during COVID-19." Her article observes that "children—and perhaps the ability to access quality child care—are playing a different, and more significant, role than in past recessions and recoveries." One of two key findings in her paper is that "daycare limitations, rather than school closings, appear to be a constraining factor on the availability of workers to fill open positions in the current economy."

As the Atlanta Fed's Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity devises the concepts for its planned programs of education and employment, the intent to is maintain attention on low- and moderate-income workers, particularly women. Miller concludes the paper with this observation: "As we continue to work toward an equitable recovery from the pandemic, it is important to reflect on how we can better understand women's experiences, support their career aspirations, and value their importance in the labor market."

photo of David Pendered
David Pendered

Staff writer for Economy Matters

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