As the Economy Starts to Grow Again, Job Growth and Unemployment Continue to Differ Strongly by Gender, Race, and Ethnicity

As the economy has started to add jobs again in May, strong gender differences remain. The U.S. Bureau of Labor’s June Employment Situation Release shows a 2.5 million increase in nonfarm payroll employment; of these fewer than half, 45.6 percent or 1.1 million jobs, went to women. Overall, the number of workers on payroll is still 19.6 million below its pre-COVID lock-down level in February 2020. Job losses have disproportionately impacted women. In February, women were 50.2 percent of workers on payroll, but they are 55.9 percent of those who lost jobs since February (Table 1).

Job growth in May has been strongest in the Leisure and Hospitality sector for both women and men, with the sector adding a total of 1.2 million workers to payroll. Other sectors with strong growth for women are Education and Health Services, Other Services, and Retail Trades (Figure 1). Men also saw strong job growth in Construction, as well as in Retail Trades and Durable Goods Manufacturing.

Yet, not all sectors added jobs. Almost 600,000 jobs were lost in the government sector; women’s job losses of 361,000 accounts for 61.8 percent of these losses, somewhat above women’s pre-COVID share of employment in the sector (of 57.9 percent; Table 1). Jobs in the government sector typically come with benefits such as health insurance, retirement funds, and paid sick leave; such benefits are much less common in Leisure and Hospitality, Retail Trade, and Other Services, where employment is growing again. Women also suffered employment losses in Information, Transportation and Warehousing, and Financial Activities (where men gained 43,000 jobs; Figure 1).

Recovery varies strongly by subsectors. In retail, Building Material and Garden Supply Stores (33 percent female in February) and Food and Beverage Stores (50 percent female) are at the same level of employment they were in February, and General Merchandise Stores (58 percent female) are at 97 percent of February levels, while employment in Clothing Accessories Stores (72 percent female) is still at less than half if its February level, despite some growth during May. [i]

Another sign of the halting recovery is employment growth in Child Care Centers, a sub-sector with an almost exclusively female workforce (97 percent female in February). Employment in Child Care Centers grew by 44,000 jobs in May, a 7 percent increase since April, although employment continue to be below what it was, at just 68.6 percent of where they were in February.

[i] IWPR calculations based on BLS data series CES6562440001; CES4244500001; CES4244600001; CES4244800001

CES4245100001; CES4245200001 (extracts, June 5, 2020).