A year of COVID-19 has devastated the US labor market. Despite recouping more than half of the 22 million jobs that vanished during the past 12 months — and a better-than-expected February report — the country still has 9.5 million fewer jobs (6.2%) than the pre-pandemic level a year ago.
Last month, the economy added 379,000 jobs, about twice the number that was expected, with leisure and hospitality accounting for 355,000 of those jobs, as parts of the country eased restrictions. The unemployment rate ticked down by a tenth to 6.2%, though the “real” unemployment rate is likely closer to 10%, according to Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell. He gets to that number by adding in the millions who have dropped out of the labor force to care for children or aging relatives due to COVID and by correcting what is likely a misclassification due to the pandemic.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, the news is not great for women, who have seen more job losses than men since the start of the pandemic. C. Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, coined the phrase “shecession,” which is defined as “an economic downturn where job and income losses are affecting women more than men.” While past recessions have tended to impact men more than women, the pandemic recession has been a double whammy for women: They hold a disproportionate number of jobs in many of the hardest-hit service sectors of the economy, and they provide the primary care for young children, who were forced into online schooling, and also for aging relatives, many of whom needed assistance for various tasks amid COVID-19. A staggering 2.3 million women have left the labor force since February of last year, according to the National Women’s Law Center.