‘Men have done much better,’ Biden’s Commerce Secretary says as the share of women in the workforce hits a 30-year low

gina raimondo
Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo.

  • The lack of caregiving has forced women out of the labor force during the pandemic.
  • Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo told Fortune that caregiving needs to be a part of infrastructure.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris has called women’s exodus from the workforce a “national emergency.”

Jobs are once again being added to the labor market and the economy is showing signs of recovery from the pandemic. But this recovery is not equal, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan represents an opportunity to change that.

“You cannot have a strong workforce, a strong economy, and a strong democracy if women aren’t included,” Raimondo told Fortune in an interview.

Raimondo is referring to the toll the pandemic has taken on women in particular, which Vice President Kamala Harris called “a national emergency” in an opinion piece she wrote in February. The latest monthly jobs data found that over 1.6 million women are still missing from the workforce, putting their labor participation rate 11 percentage points lower than men, and at its lowest levels since 1989. A major reason for this is the lack of caregiving opportunities that are keeping women from returning to work, which is why “men have done much better” in the economic recovery, Raimondo said.

Despite a labor shortage, 97% of women who rejoined the workforce are still unemployed

Insider reported in the beginning of July that even as more women are rejoining the labor force, the vast majority of them – 97%, that is – are still unemployed, compared to just the 12% of men who rejoined. And August research from the Census Bureau found that, among those not working, 32.1% of women ages 25 to 44 weren’t working because of childcare, while The New York Times reported that potentially 1.5 million mothers had left the labor force between the onset of the pandemic and September 2020.

That’s why a major part of Biden’s American Families Plan included investments in care-economy measures, like $225 billion for affordable childcare and $225 billion for a national paid family and medical leave program.

“Businesses need to support these investments in the care economy, in the same way that they would support investments in anything else-roads, bridges, airports, Amtrak,” Raimondo said. “Women need to be able to go to work and reliably hold down a job without worrying if their kids are being cared for-or spending half their income on childcare.”

Raimondo’s call is the latest from a growing number of Democratic lawmakers who want to ensure care-economy measures are not left behind in the final draft of Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Although Biden reached an agreement with a bipartisan group of senators on the American Jobs Plan, it left a number of measures out, like caregiving for the elderly, and some Democrats have said they will not support this bipartisan agreement unless a reconciliation bill consisting of care-economy measures is passed alongside it.

“Now is the time to make critical investments in our care economy and care infrastructure, so we can increase women’s participation in the labor force and have vibrant economic growth,” Raimondo said. “We cannot wait. It has to happen now.”

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Many retail jobs that disappeared during the pandemic might not return, says commerce secretary

Vice President Kamala arris and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo browsing in a Providence bookstore wearing masks
VP Kamala Harris and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo browse in Books on the Square in Rhode Island.

Many US retail and service-industry jobs that went away during the pandemic weren’t expected to return, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.

“The real issue, I think, is that a lot of the jobs that folks lost are the kinds of jobs – let’s say, for example, in retail or services industries – that might not be coming back, or coming back in the same numbers,” Raimondo told CNBC on Thursday.

Earlier, the Labor Department reported 364,000 jobless claims for the previous week, marking a pandemic-era low. Raimondo’s comments came ahead of Friday’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed the US adding 850,000 payrolls in June, beating expectations.

But the future of work for retail employees and others remained more complex, as the world slowly returned to normal following the COVID-19, Raimondo said.

“To be very honest, it’s so hard to tell in the data” why people weren’t returning to work, Raimondo said.

Teenagers, for example, were taking fewer jobs in June than they had been in the spring, perhaps because the labor shortage allowed them to choose the highest-paying jobs.

There’s also been an uptick in “rage-quitting” among workers, including frontline retail employees. Others were using labor shortages to secure higher pay.

Raimondo on Thursday said the US had to “lean into” job training and apprenticeships, in part because of the shrinking amount of retail jobs available.

“Because the jobs that are being created in cybersecurity or in the digital economy and in the tech economy are there, and are good paying,” she said on CNBC. “We need to make sure that the folks who are unemployed have the skills that they need to get those jobs.”

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Surging lumber costs have increased the average cost of a new house by $24,000

lumber and building materials store
  • Lumber prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic began, adding $24,000 to the price of new homes.
  • Demand for materials soared during the pandemic as supply tightened with factories idle.
  • The National Association of Home Builders chair said vaccine rollout should help bring costs down.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

While the pandemic hit the US, everyone seemed to want their own house. With mortgage rates at record lows and no need to commute to work in cities for at least 2020, prices soared everywhere. But they’re also soaring because there isn’t enough wood out there: lumber, to be exact.

Now it’s clear how much the lumber shortage is adding to the skyrocketing price of new homes: a whopping $24,000.

That stat is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), which found the price of an average family home increased by $24,386 since April, with the market value of a multifamily home increasing by $8,998 over the same time period.

A report from the NAHB in February said the lumber supply chain impact came as factories shut down almost immediately last March for safety reasons, and then as demand spiked, supply couldn’t keep up. Lumber prices have jumped by almost 200% since April 2020.

“The elevated price of lumber is adding approximately $24,000 to the price of a new home,” NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke told real estate news site HousingWire. “Though builders continue to see strong buyer traffic, recent increases for material costs and delivery times, particularly for softwood lumber, have depressed builder sentiment this month. Policymakers must address building material supply chain issues to help the economy sustain solid growth in 2021.”

Zillow’s Producer Price Index found that February’s 2.8% annual increase in sales was the strongest it had been since October 2018, meaning that while more houses are being sold, supply for building materials, like lumber, remain low and costly.

On March 12, the NAHB, along with more than 35 other housing organizations, wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo asking her to examine the lumber supply chain and look into solutions for the high costs.

“Housing and construction can do their parts to create jobs, boost the economy to its pre-pandemic strength, and provide safe and affordable housing for all Americans, but in order to do so the federal government needs to address skyrocketing lumber prices and chronic shortages,” the letter said.

Building 1,000 average single-family homes creates 2,900 full-time jobs and generates $110.96 million in taxes and fees, the letter said, emphasizing the economic benefits the government would reap in finding solutions to the expensive building materials.

Fowke told HousingWire that the continued rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will help decrease the costs of lumber since more mills will be able to safely reopen, and with more homes being built, home builder confidence should rise. (Homebuilder confidence fell by two points in March.)

The timeline on when material prices will decline is yet to be determined, but prices might start to come down with President Joe Biden on Monday promising 100 million COVID-19 shots in the next 10 days.

“Shots in arms and money in pockets – that’s important,” Biden said.

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