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Working women still absent from labor market

For the last couple of days, I’ve been writing about working women, and how the pandemic has affected them. During the pandemic, a lot of women – more than 5.4 million -left the workforce. Not all of them left voluntarily. More significantly, not all of them have returned.

Prior to the pandemic, the labor participate rate in the US for women was 59.2%. The most recent employment statistic show that the labor participation rate for women is 58%. You might argue that there’s not a lot of daylight between 59.2% and 58%. In real numbers, this gap holds about 1.5 million women.

There is a whole raft of very good economic, social, and even medical reasons to get these 1.5M women back in the workforce. From an economic standpoint, increasing the labor participation rate means increasing productivity and increasing participation in the economy.

Socially, the pandemic has changed the way we interact with people. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, right now, most people work the number of hours they want to work. In other words, not too many people either want to work more or less than they already do. (Economists would say that in this case, most people are on their labor supply curve.)

Workers who tend to have more contact with either other workers or members of the public typically want to work fewer hours than they do. This roughly balances the number of workers who want more human contact than they currently get through work.

Working women develop dementia less frequently

One of the most interesting motivations to get women back into the workforce comes from data collected as part of the Health and Retirement Study, managed by UM. Researchers analyzed the data and as it turns out, women with college degrees develop dementia later in life at a lower rate than women without them. They attribute this 4% decline to the growing proportion of working women in the 60’s, 70’s, and ’80s. Researchers do not yet have an explanation for this other than the sustained mental stimulation women experience by working.

Getting women back to work isn’t an easy task. Childcare, elder care and household care responsibilities typically fall on women. The worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, but that hasn’t been enough to bring women back to work. A significant number of women haven’t returned to work for the most pedestrian reason imaginable: they don’t want to.

The promise of training for a job that will bring in $12 per hour is unlikely to provide serious incentive to rejoin the workforce. This can only be described as a misfire by Washtenaw Community College. There are significant opportunities to prepare women for high-paying jobs, so why create poverty-level work? Yet WCC wastes its time and the taxpayers’ dollars doing just that in the name of “workforce development.”

Let poverty-wage employers in Washtenaw County perform their own recruiting and training. WCC should focus instead on creating real economic opportunities for women.

Photo Credit: Kurtis Garbutt , via Flickr