Experts concerned progress could be erased as women leave workforce at alarming rate

Posted at 4:32 PM, Oct 21, 2020

A historic and disproportionate number of women have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic, and new studies are showing many more are still considering downshifting their career.

“I had just found another position that I was going to start part-time in addition to the one I had, and I was hoping to build my career with that,” said Ashley Stewart in Virginia.

Stewart is a mother of three young children, who at the beginning of the year was hoping to transition to full-time work as an occupational therapist. However, when the pandemic hit, she had to reevaluate what was best for her family.

“I switched to doing just a couple of virtual sessions on my computer during the week,” said Stewart. "It ended up that it was just too much to handle here, with the kids screaming in the background or climbing on me while I am trying, so I ended up stopping altogether.”

It was a bittersweet decision. She was sad to halt a blossoming career, but grateful her family could afford to make that decision. She felt it was safer for her children and worth the sacrifice on her end. Stewart’s decision has become a common one for women across the country.

The latest data from the Department of Labor shows that between August and September, 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force, compared to 216,000 men. That is essentially women dropping out of the workforce four time faster than men.

“The number of women who have left is startling,” said C. Nicole Mason. “Because at the beginning of the year, we were celebrating the fact that women were 50% of the workforce, so we have lost significant gains since then.”

Mason is the president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“We can draw the direct line between the lack of childcare and daycare closures to women exiting,” said Mason.

Experts, like Mason, are concerned a decade or more of women’s equality and progress in the workforce could be erased, if women continue to drop out of the labor force at this rate.

“Employers have a role to play by making sure workplace policies are flexible, providing access to childcare,” said Mason. “The federal government has a role to play by instituting a national care infrastructure that will do more to keep women in the workforce by making sure they have childcare and other supports."

Many companies have begun to offer more flexibility during the pandemic, but the data indicates more may need to be done. In terms of government responding to this disproportionate loss of women in the workforce, the childcare industry has been calling on Congress for funding for weeks. The industry’s plea is not only to save providers but to support women needing their service to go back to work. Congress has not been able to make true progress toward a new stimulus package, for months now.

In addition to the disproportionate number of women who have already left the workforce, a new study shows another one in four women are considering leaving or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19.