By Maria Aspan and Emma Hinchliffe

In early 2020, just before the first U.S. patient was diagnosed with COVID-19, women crossed a major employment milestone. The labor market was booming. Health care, education, and other service sectors largely staffed by female workers were racing to hire more people. And for a few shining months in early 2020, government data showed that women outnumbered men in the U.S. paid workforce.

Then “the whole house burned down,” says Michael Madowitz, a labor economist at the Center for American Progress.

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