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Women’s Workforce Participation Is At Its Lowest Point Since The 80s. Child Care Is An Essential Part Of The Solution.

Resource October 19, 2020

The September jobs report makes clear what economists have been fearing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—this economic crisis is disproportionately affecting working women, and stands to set progress on women’s workplace equality back a generation.

The Takeaway: Business leaders and economists have been sounding the alarm that the pandemic—and the child care crisis it worsened—is threatening decades of progress to establish equal footing for women in the workforce.

  • In a recent speech, Thomas Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said,”As we head into the fall, the challenges of virtual schooling and prolonged child care closures may already be putting downward pressure on women’s participation.”
  • Betsey Stevenson, former member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama, told Politico, “Even though the pandemic has come as a big crisis and we saw the labor market crater, I think the impact of the child care crisis on women’s outcomes is going to be felt over the next decade.”

By the Numbers: The September jobs report revealed devastating numbers for women’s workforce participation.

  • Women’s labor force participation dropped to 55.6 percent from 56.1 percent in September. Aside from April and May this year, this marks the lowest reading for women’s labor force participation since 1987.
  • According to the National Women’s Law Center, 865,000 women left the workforce in September, which makes up 80 percent of all workers who left the labor force.

The Problem: Studies show that working women are more likely to leave their jobs or not return to work because of challenges with child care.

  • About one in five working-age adults said the reason they can’t work is the disruption to their child care arrangements created by the pandemic. Among those not working, women ages 25 to 44 are almost three times as likely as men not to be working due to child care demands, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve.
  • According to a report from McKinsey & Company and Lean In, 76 percent of mothers with children under age 10 say child care has been among their top three challenges during the pandemic, compared with 54 percent of fathers.

One Solution: Access to quality, affordable child care is essential for most working parents’—particularly mothers’—participation in the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever that child care for working families is the backbone of our economy, and it has exposed the inadequacies of America’s child care system. Now voters are demanding sweeping federal action to support the child care industry. In a recent national poll from the First Five Years Fund, 79 percent of voters—and 82 percent of women—said the COVID crisis has shown how essential it is to build a child care system that makes care available and affordable to all families who need it.

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