KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The civilian labor force in the U.S. grew by 430,000 workers in April, a sign that the economy continues to rebound and even expand — despite falling shy of projections.
Participation rates in the workforce also continue to bounce back after bottoming out near 60% in April 2020, but working women — mothers and minority women, in particular — were disproportionately impacted and haven’t shared as prosperously in the recovery.
According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago from January 2021, mothers — particularly Black, single, and non-college-educated mothers — bore an outsized brunt of COVID-19's economic toll.
Pandemic-related disruptions to schools, access to or the affordability of child care, and the flexibility (or inflexibility) in work schedules were significant factors.
Despite accounting for only 45.5% of the U.S. labor force in February 2020, more than 12 million women 20 years and older lost jobs early in the pandemic compared with 11.2 million men in the same age group.
Many of those women 20 years and older have returned to work, but now make up 45.3% of the U.S. workforce.
“There’s lots of folks that would like to return to full time work,” Mid-American Regional Council Director of Research Services Frank Lenk said. “They just have to get their child care arrangements all set back up again. School is partially shut down in some places, and then it’s going to be out for the summer.”
Such factors, which have always existed to a degree in the U.S. economy, were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, and could have lasting ripple effects.
“If the pandemic persists, further delaying a return of women with children to the labor market, there is a risk of labor market scarring affecting the future earnings potential and reducing the number of mothers who eventually return to work,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago study’s authors concluded.
Education and income levels had a profound impact on overall parental employment participation rates, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Nearly two-thirds of mothers who left the workforce were from households earning less than $50,000 annually.
Labor-force participation rates for women 20 years and older in the labor force have dropped slightly more (2%) compared to men (1.9%) during the pandemic recession, but that finding was particularly stark among women of color.
While White women (-1.6%) and Asian women (-0.8%) left the labor force at rate below the national average (-1.7%), Black women (-3.2%) were nearly twice as likely to leave their jobs and Latino women were more than twice as likely (-3.7%), according to analysis Lenk presented last week to the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.
“That has been an enormous strain on families and that is why I think direct relief payments were necessary,” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, said. “They should be temporary, but I think they are absolutely necessary.”
Hawley, who supports the decision by Missouri and other states to withdraw from federal unemployment assistance programs, instead has proposed a tax credit for working parents, which would provide an annual $6,000 tax credit per parent.
“Now, you’ve got to work in order to get that benefit,” he said Thursday in an interview with 41 Action News. “I think that’s important, but, if you do work, you get the full benefit, and it’s advanced to you monthly in your paycheck. That would be a tremendous help to parents and a tremendous incentive, I think, to go back to work.”
It would be in addition to the expanded child tax credit for 2021 under the American Rescue Plan, though it’s unclear if Hawley’s plan will gain traction in Congress.
While the pandemic recession proved short-lived and the economic rebound has outpaced expectations, it will be a year before employment in the Kansas City region catches up to pre-pandemic levels and longer for the country overall.
There were still nearly 3.6 million fewer adults participating in the U.S. labor force in April 2021 compared to February 2020, a 2.18% drop since the start of the pandemic, and the economy had shed millions of jobs.