Pandemic Recession Has Been More Harmful to Women, Fed Chair Says

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said before the House Financial Services Committee on Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic-induced recession has had an unusually harmful economic effect on women, the Associated Press reported.

When the pandemic hit, many women reassessed their work-life priorities during an unprecedented time.

"As schools closed and childcare services shuttered during the worst of the pandemic, that added responsibility and stress made working more difficult for some and took many away from their jobs," Powell said.

"These burdens are real and have been an additional challenge during an already challenging time."

According to the U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics, since August and September, the number of unemployed persons, at 7.4 million, has continued to trend down. Even as the unemployment rate rose, working mothers lost jobs while an average of 400,000 job openings were added each month.

With the reopening of schools, Powell had predicted that mothers would be more free to return to work, yet that has not been the case.

Indeed Director of Economic Research Nick Bunker said that among mothers of children 13 or younger, the amount who were employed in September was nearly 4 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Will women return to th the workplace?
Economists question whether women with children will return to the workplace after the pandemic. Above, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on September 30, 2021. Sarah Silbige/AP File

The departure of so many mothers from the workforce is a big reason why the proportion of Americans who are either working or looking for work remains below pre-pandemic levels even while employers are scrambling to fill a near-record total of available jobs.

In 2020, Fed data showed that 70 percent of parents reported that the pandemic disrupted childcare or in-person schooling, and 25 percent of mothers in a Fed survey said they did not work or worked less as a result, Powell said.

"Long-standing disparities weigh on the productive capacity of our economy, which can only realize its full potential if everyone has a solid chance to contribute to, and to reap the benefits of, broad-reaching prosperity," Powell said.

Powell's remarks coincide with new research by Stephanie Aaronson, a former Fed economist who is director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution. Her research concluded that other factors have also likely depressed women's participation in the workforce.

Since women were overrepresented in such hard-hit service industries as restaurants and retail, many of them may be reluctant to return to those in-person jobs until the pandemic is further under control, the study found.

A new report, Women in the Workplace, by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. illustrates how the pandemic imposed an especially heavy toll on working women. It found that one in three women over the past year had thought about leaving their jobs or "downshifting" their careers. Early in the pandemic, by contrast, the study's authors said, just one in four women had considered leaving.

"Women are even more burned out now than they were a year ago," the report said, "and the gap in burnout between women and men has nearly doubled."

Forty-two percent of women said they felt burned out this year, compared with 32 percent who said so in 2020. By contrast, a smaller proportion of men—35 percent—felt burned out this year, compared with 28 percent in 2020.