Women saw a big increase in jobs in March but there’s still a long way to go

  • Women gained 315,000 jobs in March, about half of men’s monthly employment gain.
  • NWLC wrote it would take roughly 15 months to get back to women’s pre-pandemic employment at this rate.
  • Measures like raising the minimum wage and implementing universal childcare could help.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The March jobs report brought something relatively new to the story of pandemic unemployment: a touch of optimism.

Based on the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 916,000 nonfarm payroll jobs were added. That is the highest monthly gain so far this year. If the US continues to add jobs each month at that rate, employment can reach February 2020 levels in just around 10 months.

But, as always, there’s more to the story, especially when it comes to one group who’s continually been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic’s economic devastation: women.

Women’s nonfarm payroll employment increased by 315,000 last month while men saw a gain of 601,000 jobs according to the National Women’s Law Center‘s calculation. The NWLC wrote that this rate translates to taking about 15 months to get women’s employment back to February 2020’s level of 76.3 million. For men, it will take a little over six months.

“At this point we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go,” Jasmine Tucker, the NWLC’s director of research, told Insider.

Still, there was a large increase in the net number of women who are at least 20 years old entering the labor force in March. However, March was another month of men exiting the labor force. The following chart highlights the monthly change in civilian labor force participation for men and women from the past several months:

Based on the chart, 495,000 women age 20 and over joined the labor force last month. This is much higher than the 26,000 that entered the labor force in February 2021. On the other hand, 117,000 men age 20 and over left the labor force last month, almost 40,000 higher than the 78,000 men who left a month earlier.

One concern, however, is the quality of the jobs that those women are taking, especially with a surge in leisure and hospitality employment.

“I think there’s a lot of people right now who are taking anything they can get,” Tucker said. Women moving into those jobs could lead to the wage gap widening later on.

With the uptick in women entering the labor force, their labor force participation rate has also slightly increased. The rate for women 20 years and over was 57.4% in March, 0.4 percentage points higher than February. Men’s rate continues to be much higher than women, although the rate ticked down by 0.1 percentage points to 69.5%. The following chart highlights the labor force participation rate for men and women over the past year:

Both women’s and men’s unemployment rates have declined from their pandemic peaks in April 2020 but are still higher than their pre-pandemic rates. The gap between the unemployment rates has narrowed and is now only a difference of 0.1 percentage point for people who are at least 20 years old. The following chart highlights the unemployment rate for men and women over the course of the pandemic:

“If we added all of the 1.8 million women who’ve dropped out of the labor force and added them to the ranks of the unemployed, women’s unemployment rate would have been 8% and men’s would have been 8% too – if we count the millions of men who’ve dropped out,” Tucker said.

She added: “Black women would have been 13.4%, and Latinas would have been 11.1%. These are crisis levels. We are, I think, still in a crisis here.”

Tucker said that measures like raising the minimum wage and implementing universal childcare will be key in creating a more equitable recovery.

“You can’t go to work if you don’t have a road to get there. You can’t go to work if you don’t have a safe place for your kid. Right. These are like synonymous things. Childcare is infrastructure and we need to treat it that way.”

A tale of two pandemics, even for women

The economic impact on women has also been bifurcated, depending on what profession they’re in, according to Saru Jayaraman, the president of One Fair Wage. It’s not just a story of employment, or lack thereof.

“It’s important to understand that for low wage workers, it’s less of a a loss in terms of employment and jobs and more of an income loss,” Jayaraman said.

She said that conditions for workers in those jobs have been worsening, all while risk increases. Recent research from One Fair Wage found that, during the pandemic, female tipped workers reported tips were down, but harassment was up.

And so the recovery numbers – especially in the restaurant sector – may not tell the whole story. While jobs may be recovering there, with funding pouring in from the American Rescue Plan, the devastation for women working in the industry is “incomprehensible.”

On a policy level, the top priority should be raising the minimum wage, according to Jayaraman; 59% of the workers who would benefit from a $15 minimum wage are women.

“Last year, we started a relief fund for service workers; 240,000 workers applied for relief. And I can’t tell you the number of women waitresses who wrote to us and said, ‘I can no longer feed my children. The lines are too long at the food banks. I am now resorting to stealing food because I have no choice,'”Jayaraman said.

“Some of them wrote and said, ‘I can’t pay the electricity bill, so we don’t know how much longer we can be in touch with you.'”

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Even with the blowout March jobs report, many industries have a long way to go to fully recover

outdoor dining
A server brings food to a table in the outside dining area for Kimmie’s Coffee Cup in Orange, California, on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

  • The March jobs report showed big monthly gains in some industries, including leisure and hospitality.
  • However, some industries are still far below pre-pandemic employment.
  • This includes accommodation and motion picture and sound recording.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Despite the postive jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, some industries are still far below their level of employment before the pandemic.

Nonfarm payroll employment grew by 916,000 in March, and leisure and hospitality made up about a third of those gains. If employment gains continue at this rate, it could take until January 2022 to get back to the pre-pandemic employment level.

Although the March jobs report shows employment is continuing to rise as more people could be eligible to get a vaccine soon and industries that were hard hit last spring are starting to recover, it still could take some time for some of the harder-hit subsectors to get back to where they were before the pandemic.

“It’s great to see progress there, but I think you look at that list and it’s very clear that the big constraint there is the virus, the pandemic,” Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed, told Insider about industries that are still below pre-pandemic levels. “Movie theaters and hotels aren’t going to be able to get back to any semblance of health until we have this pandemic under control.”

He added that for those industries, it really depends on how quickly people can get the coronavirus vaccine and when some of the industries that have had constraints throughout the pandemic, like movie theaters, can safely fully reopen.

The following chart highlights the percent change in employment from February 2020 to March 2021 across industries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics along its vertical axis. We also included median hourly wage data as of May 2020 from the BLS’ National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates program along the horizontal axis.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, many low-wage industries have seen bigger hits to employment, while most high-paying subsectors are near or even above their pre-pandemic employment levels:

As seen in the chart, motion picture and sound recording industries are one of the groups that are still far below where it was before the pandemic. With only 2,900 more jobs added last month, that industry was still 40.3% below February 2020 employment in March 2021.

Although leisure and hospitality saw employment increase by 280,000 last month, the industries that make up this sector are still below their pre-pandemic level of employment. Accommodation and food services is still 16.8% below February 2020 employment and arts, entertainment, and recreation is down 28.3%.

Within accommodation and food services, food services and drinking places saw a monthly gain of 175,800, but is 14.7% below February 2020 employment. Accommodation, which includes businesses like hotels, has even further to go before it recovers, with employment 29.5% below its February 2020 employment level of 2.1 million.

Even though several industries are still slowly recovering, others are actually seeing gains. With a total of over 1 million jobs in March, couriers and messengers are 23.3% above February 2020 employment of 882,800.

Bunker said the question is whether these industries that have supported the work from home economy, like couriers and messengers, will continue to do well once people start to return to work, people are vaccinated, and people feel that it’s safe to go on vacations or eat in-person at restaurants.

“So I guess the question is, are we all going to keep enjoying, keep wanting to buy, like, at-home workout equipment, or are we going to want to go back to classes?” Bunker said as an example. “Are we fine with delivery services or are people really excited to get out to restaurants, and how much do we shift away from some of the things we’ve been doing since March of 2020? “

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As the economy slowly recovers, beach towns are in trouble but tech hubs might actually be okay

Atlantic City, NJ
  • Brookings used BLS employment projections to see how growth in cities may change after the pandemic.
  • The report finds some tech cities and university towns may not see that big of a difference.
  • Tourism-heavy cities like Atlantic City, New Jersey may see the biggest differences.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A new metro area and state analysis from Brookings finds employment in all cities will be affected by the long-term outcomes of the pandemic, but places that rely on tourism could be hit especially hard.

Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, and research assistant Yang You published a new report about how employment may change across the US based on recent 2019-2029 projections calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The new projections analyze how employment may in various industries and occupations could grow or shrink over the decade given long-term changes in behavior from the pandemic, such as people continuing to avoid large crowds and more telework.

“While we’re all expecting and hoping for a very robust, near-term recovery from the [COVID-19] crisis, we shouldn’t forget this longer-term potential aftereffect that in some places could really, be painful,” Muro told Insider.

The Brookings report shows that across US metro areas, employment is expected to be lower in 2029 than it would have been without the pandemic, but some metro areas have larger differences.

“Places that are heavily specialized in accommodations or food services, or arts and entertainment, or retail will themselves feel some slowing from the baseline,” Muro said based on BLS‘ expectations of what employment will look like by industry in the long term.

“Those economies are very cyclical anyway, and they may be subjected now to an additional, fairly substantial drag, according to the BLS numbers,” Muro told Insider.

The following chart highlights the five cities where difference in employment growth between the baseline and strong impact scenario are the largest:

Many of the places that may see the largest changes to employment are tourism and vacation destinations. This includes places like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Las Vegas. The chart shows Kahului, Hawaii, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, have the largest percent differences among the metro areas at -3.6%.

On the other hand, Brookings notes the places with the lowest percent differences are a mix of metro areas that are big in tech and manufacturing as well as “university towns strong in science and IT,” such as Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The following chart highlights the five cities where differences in employment growth between the baseline and strong impact scenario are the smallest:

The chart shows Trenton, New Jersey, has the smallest percent difference among the metro areas at -1.1%, where projected 2029 employment in the strong impact scenario is around 3,200 lower than the baseline scenario of around 291,000. Among the 384 metro areas, 298 of them have percent differences below 2.0%.

It is important to note the BLS projections are just estimates and could differ from what actually pans out between 2019 and 2029. Muro said government responses and changes by policy makers can help places that may see the largest percent differences.

“There may be particularly successful policy interventions that help these places with these sorts of industries and workers,” Muro said. “So all of those things could happen, and that could change the picture. What further government response there is might make a difference.”

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States with tech-heavy economies could see less long-term damage to their job markets from the pandemic

Las Vegas
  • BLS published employment growth projections that take into account the impact of the pandemic.
  • Brookings used those projections to see how growth differs from the baseline in different states.
  • Tourism-heavy states, like Nevada, see the biggest percent differences.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

DC and Massachusetts may experience smaller changes to their employment growth because of the pandemic than other states, based on a new Brookings report.

Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, and research assistant Yang You looked at how employment may change across the US over 10 years.

The analysis is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recent projections that consider how the pandemic may affect employment. The two alternate scenario projections from BLS take into account how potential changes in business and consumer behavior from the pandemic may affect employment in the long term.

For instance, BLS expects there to be a continued increase in telework and as a result more demand for tech jobs, like information security analysts.

Brookings’ analysis finds all states and metro areas will see less employment from what was originally projected, based on the percent differences between the pre-pandemic baseline and BLS’ estimates for how employment in different occupations could grow and shrink. However, some states will see greater differences.

Muro and You’s analysis finds that states where there are more opportunities for tech and science employment may see smaller declines in employment. Meanwhile, states with economies that rely on sectors that are expected to see larger drops in employment like accommodation and retail, may be more heavily affected.

The following map highlights the differences in employment between the pre-pandemic baseline and BLS’ post-pandemic projections by state from Brookings’ analysis:

Muro told Insider that most of the differences are modest. The map shows that DC has the smallest percent difference at -1.1%, where employment in the strong impact scenario in 2029 is projected to be around 9,500 lower than the baseline scenario of around 861,000 total jobs in the nation’s capital. Twenty-three states have percent differences of no more than -1.7%.

On the other hand, Nevada has a percent difference of -3.0%, where projected 2029 employment in the strong impact scenario is about 49,000 lower than the baseline of 1.6 million. Hawaii and Florida also have large percentage differences compared to most of the other states.

“This is evidence for the need for some of these vacation and tourism-oriented communities to consider ways they can diversify because this looks like a picture of a sustained, not calamitous, but very real kind of softening,” Muro told Insider.

Hawaii and Nevada are already considering ways to diversify the economy after their tourism-dependent economies were affected by restrictions during the pandemic, like casino closures in Nevada.

As Insider’s Aki Ito previously reported, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said in January that the state has to “diversify” its economy after the state’s tourism industry took a hit as a result of travel restrictions during the pandemic. In particular, Ige said he “will continue to promote technology-driven diversification of our economy.”

The Associated Press reported that Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak similarly wants to diversify the state’s economy. This includes increasing its presence in the technology sector through Innovation Zones, which would give tech companies similar power to a county government, AP writes.

It is important to note the BLS projections may not be exactly what the employment situation looks like over the next decade but could give some indication of what to expect.

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The ‘real’ February unemployment rate is closer to 9% after adding dropouts and misclassifications, analysis shows

Northgate Mall empty hall
  • While the February jobs report showed unemployment dipping to 6.2%, the “real” rate is much higher.
  • Fed Chair Powell and Treasury Secretary Yellen said in early 2021 the real rate is closer to 10%.
  • When accounting for misclassification and dropouts, Insider calculates the true rate at roughly 9.1% after February.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

February labor-market data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged last month’s unemployment rate at 6.2%. The true state of the economy is likely gloomier.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen emphasized before the BLS report that the “real” unemployment rate likely stands closer to 10%. Such an unofficial measurement ropes in workers suspected to have been misclassified as having a job even though they’re actually on a COVID-19-related furlough and people who have stopped looking for work and dropped out of the labor force since last February amid the crisis.

Those populations are left out of the government’s benchmark U-3 unemployment reading – the number that stood at 6.2% after February. By Insider’s calculations, the “real” unemployment rate touted by Powell and Yellen stands at roughly 9.1% for the same period.

Other gauges used by BLS paint a similarly bleak picture. The U-6 rate – which includes Americans marginally attached to the labor force and those employed part-time for economic reasons – held at 11.1% in February, according to the Friday release. The gauge peaked at 22.9% in April 2020 but still has plenty of room to fall before reaching the pre-pandemic reading of 7%.

To be sure, the jobs report wasn’t all bad. By some measures, it was a sign of major improvement. Nonfarm payrolls grew by 379,000, handily exceeding the median economist estimate of 200,000 payrolls. The hospitality and leisure industries accounted for 355,000 of those new jobs, a signal that the sectors hit hardest by the virus and related lockdowns are steadily improving.

The diffusion index – which tracks how many sectors added jobs versus those cutting payrolls – returned to positive territory, signaling job gains are broadening. The labor-force participation rate held steady at 61.4% after declining the month prior.

The data underscores recent commentary from Fed Chair Powell on his economic outlook. There remains “a lot of ground to cover” before the US comes close to reaching the Fed’s maximum-employment goal, the central bank chief said. And while the unemployment rate remains a key indicator, other gauges are critical for judging the overall health of the labor market, he added. 

“Yes, 4% would be a nice unemployment rate, but it would take more than that to get to maximum employment,” Powell said.

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