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Pandemic fallout: More men than women returned to work


Last month, the U.S. added 528,000 jobs and now has recovered all 22 million lost in the pandemic.

But the milestone masks another type of gender gap (that’s not about wages).

Men recouped all 10.1 million of their vanished jobs and topped their February 2020 level by 132,000 in July, U.S. Department of Labor figures show. Yet women, who lost 11.9 million positions during the crisis, are still 100,000 shy of their pre-COVID-19 mark, according to a Labor Department survey of employers that results in the headline job gains.

That’s not a huge gap. But a separate survey of households – that determines the 3.5% unemployment rate – shows women further behind. According to that poll, men are 24,000 jobs below their pre-pandemic peak while women are 552,000 jobs short.

Why are women still catching up?

It’s COVID-19’s lopsided impact on the fields they dominate.

“The industries that got hit hardest in the pandemic tend to employ more women,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.

For example, leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants and bars, was clobbered by government shutdowns and Americans’ social-distancing behaviors during COVID-19. The sector lost 8.2 million jobs in spring 2020 and is still 1.2 million positions below its peak as it struggles to hire workers.

Women make up 53.1% of the leisure and hospitality workforce, according to a National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) analysis of Labor data.

Some of those jobs are lower-paying and “not as desirable,” keeping more women from regaining their prior employment levels, says Nicole Mason, head of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women also comprise 77.1% of the staff in education and health services, NWLC says, including teachers and nurses. That sector is still about 100,000 jobs short of its pre-pandemic level, in part because of burnout and hospital cost-cutting, says Moody’s economist Sophia Koropeckyj.

And women account for 58.1% of the government workforce, according to NWLC. Public-sector payrolls are still nearly 600,000 jobs below their pre-COVID-19 mark, with most of the gap in state and local governments.

Although men have recovered their lost jobs more rapidly, women are closer to reclaiming their pre-COVID-19 labor force participation rate, or their share of the population working or looking for jobs.

Women are a percentage point below their pre-pandemic participation rate of 57.9% while men are 1.7 percentage points short of their pre-COVID-19 level of 69.3%. Many women with child care responsibilities returned to the workforce as schools reopened, Mason said.