By Chart R
During the pandemic, the female labor force shrunk to levels not seen for 5 years, causing some to worry that the unemployment rate for women may struggle to recover, with talks of the great “she-cession” continuing into 2022.
April data from the BLS, however, suggests that the she-cession has faded. That’s due in large part to prime working age women, defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as those aged 25-54, becoming more active in the labor force, with 77.5% of that cohort now in work or seeking employment — the highest number on record.
There's a multitude of possible explanations for the record figure, from economic necessity caused by inflation, to the still-warm labor market, to long-term societal shifts, and the rise of flexible work post-pandemic. That last factor has particularly impacted working mothers — 71.6% of women with children under 18 now participate in the US labor force, well up from February 2020 figures, as some feel more enabled to juggle home and work responsibilities.
The 77.5% participation figure reflects decades of change in the US workforce. At the start of 1960, just over 42% of women aged 25-54 were in the labor force, compared to more than 97% of men in the same age bracket. That gap has narrowed in the 60 years since, hitting its slimmest point last August when the prime-age male participation rate only outweighed the female equivalent by 11.5%.