America must put women back to work

As any summer traveler knows, many people working in the tourism industry seem overworked and stressed these days. Leisure and hospitality have been hit much harder than any other industry in the United States during the pandemic, and they are still struggling to keep pace, with some 1.4 million jobs unfilled compared to levels before the pandemic.

It’s not about a lack of demand – people may cut spending or take vacations closer to home, but they’re still traveling. Indeed, post-pandemic travel spending hit a new high in May, according to the nonprofit US Travel Association.

In fact, the continued labor shortage in this industry is indicative of a larger and more problematic trend, namely the loss of women in the labor force, particularly workers without a college degree. This is a trend that has developed since the 2001 recession; since then, less educated women have experienced greater declines in labor force participation and slower recoveries after each recession. But things have reached a new crisis point after the pandemic.

Women make up 53% of the workforce in the leisure and hospitality sector, for example, and more than one in three jobs lost by women at the height of the pandemic were in this sector.

The same is true in many other lower-paying service sectors, such as child care. While overall employment in the United States in May 2022 was at 99.7% of its January 2020 level, according to the United States Department of Commerce, the employment rate in the child care sector is still at 89.2% of its pandemic rate. Other areas, such as public sector work and education, also lag behind.

The bottom line? Women, especially those on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, are not re-entering the workforce at the rate they did before the coronavirus. Indeed, female labor force participation in the United States was 1.4 percentage points lower at the end of 2021 than it was before 2000.

This puts America at odds with the rest of the rich world. Over the same period, women’s participation in the labor market increased by 5.3 percentage points in France, 5.4 points in Canada, 6.7 points in the United Kingdom and 14.3 points in Japan. Surprisingly, there is now a greater percentage of women without college degrees working in Japan than in the United States.

What’s going on? In a nutshell, childcare – or more specifically, a lack of decent and affordable childcare.

Commerce Department statistics show that mothers with children under five at home generally participate less in work outside the home, but this is especially true for less educated and lower paid women.

Additionally, local studies have shown that mothers in states with more daycare closures and more online schooling have lower levels of employment, and those who have access to care (whether provided by the State, the private sector or the family) have a higher job. rate of participation.

It’s a topic that Gina Raimondo, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, has started broaching with business leaders. “We desperately need women who haven’t had a college education back into the workforce,” she told me in a recent conversation in Washington, “but unless we we were attacking the custody of the children, they will not come back”. She pointed out, for example, that employers in some very tight labor markets, such as construction, with well-paying jobs, would like to hire more women. But since shift work can start at 7 a.m. or end after dinner, mothers with children and without access to affordable care cannot participate in, for example, union training programs for these industries. “People just aren’t grappling with the economics of this.”

In fact, the economics are quite simple: more working women means more economic growth. A new study by the Conference Board’s Economic Development Committee released in late June estimates that even a one-percentage-point increase in labor force participation among women aged 18 to 54 would produce “multiple economic benefits, including additional revenue of approximately $73 billion. This is something that could have a significant effect on consumption and job creation at a time when the US economy is likely to slow.

While many enlightened companies in sectors such as technology and finance provide access to good on-site childcare, there is a strong case to be made that public, not private, care is the way forward. to follow here. For starters, it would cover all workers, including those in the lowest-paying industries and the growing number of gig workers in the United States who gather freelance jobs to earn a living. According to the CED study, the average income of families using paid child care in the United States in 2020 was $149,926. Meanwhile, the median family income was $67,521.

It would also relieve companies of the burden they carry in the United States by providing things that are better done by the state. Health care is, of course, at the top of the list. As Roe’s upset against Wade last week made clear, corporations are grappling not only with rising health care costs (which the state runs in many other countries), but also with politics. of this care. In this area, as in the case of the need for decent childcare, the interests of women and companies are in fact the same.

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