The U.S. economy added 678,000 jobs last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest jobs report, far exceeding economists' expectations and accelerating the nation's recovery two years into the coronavirus pandemic. February was a promising month for women re-entering the workforce, too, as 51.2% of the new positions created went to women, reports the National Women's Law Center.
Yet women are still lagging behind men in economic recovery: Men have now recouped all of their job losses since the pandemic began, but the NWLC estimates that it would take about four months of growth at February's rate for women to get back all of their job losses since the pandemic began. There are still nearly 1.1 million fewer women in the labor force now compared to February 2020, the NWLC reports.
"Overall, this was a strong month for women," Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the NWLC, tells CNBC Make It. "In other months of job growth, we'll see men hired into more jobs than women, or gains in lower-paid sectors like retail and losses in higher-paid jobs like government, but we're seeing progress across the board here."
Education and health services as well as leisure and hospitality saw significant job gains last month, adding 112,000 and 179,000 new jobs, respectively. Women gained about 84,000, or 75% of the jobs added in education and health services, and took 70,000, or about 39%, of the jobs in leisure and hospitality.
Two groups experienced a drop in unemployment last month: Latinas (4.9% to 4.8%) and Asian women (3.2% to 2.7%), while the unemployment rate for white women remained unchanged at 3.1%.
Despite this strong job growth, however, 48,000 women left the labor force. For every woman aged 20 and over who left last month, the NWLC reports that nearly 10 men entered the labor force (479,000).
Black women led this exit: 31,000 Black women left the labor force in February and saw their unemployment rate increase from 5.8% to 6.1%.
Throughout much of the pandemic and consistently since December, Black women's unemployment has been significantly higher than that of Latinas, Asian women and white women.
"While everyone else is trending in one direction or staying the same, Black women's economic recovery has been all over the place – and we're seeing them continue to leave the labor force at an alarmingly high rate," Tucker says.
There's no clear answer as to why this disparity exists – but experts have pointed to several possible factors widening the gap, with hiring discrimination, burnout and a lack of substantial benefits in lower-paid industries at the top of the list.
In addition to more immediate solutions like increasing paid time off and introducing more flexible work arrangements, Tucker says companies will need to consider high-level changes to make the workplace more equitable for women, like closing the pay gap and increasing the number of women in the C-suite.
"We still have a hole to dig ourselves out of here," Tucker says of women's economic recovery. "But we're moving in the right direction, and I hope that talking about these issues will help us continue to move in the right direction."
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