PolitifactNC

Fact check: How many women left the workforce during the pandemic?

Posted November 24, 2021 4:31 p.m. EST
Updated November 25, 2021 5:38 p.m. EST

Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been deadlocked over President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill, which would fund Democratic social and economic goals, including free preschool education.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she wanted to see the bill put to a vote this week, though as of Friday the Congressional Budget Office had yet to score the bill and determine a final cost. Congress passed Biden's separate $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which he signed Monday.

Among the Democratic advocates for the $1.75 trillion bill is Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, who has emphasized the devastating economic effects of the pandemic as a reason why Americans need some of the social safeguards guaranteed in the Build Back Better bill.

While speaking on MSNBC on Oct. 25, Allred pointed out the pandemic's disproportionate economic effect on women.

"You've had over 2 million women drop out of the workforce during this pandemic," Allred said. He went on to highlight the provisions regarding pre-K and child care in the Build Back Better bill aimed to strengthen the workforce.

Is Allred right? Did more than 2 million women drop out of the workforce nationally during the pandemic?

Fewer women working

When asked about the statistics, Allred's office pointed to an April Pew Research Center article that found, in an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, a net 2.4 million women dropped out of the workforce from February 2020 to February 2021.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data from the Current Population Survey indicates 77,534,000 women ages 16 and over were in the labor force in February 2020 and 75,149,000 women were working in February 2021. The difference between those numbers is nearly 2.4 million women.

If you wanted to update those numbers, there were 75,737,000 women working in October 2021. The difference between that February 2020 value — before the March 2020 plummet — and October 2021 is nearly 1.8 million women.

So, there were 1.8 million fewer women in the labor force in October than in February 2020.

That shows a significant number of women have rejoined the workforce since February 2021, but the number of women working is still much lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Experts say many women dropped out of the workforce to take care of their children at the beginning of the pandemic, when many schools closed and children learned virtually.

Many economists have tied the September 2020 decline of women in the labor force to the start of school, when 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce compared with 216,000 men.

Mothers have not seen the same economic recovery non-parents and fathers experienced. A February 2021 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that if recovery had been similar for mothers as it had been for non-parent women, the December labor force participation rate would have been 2 percentage points higher than the actual rate. About 700,000 more working-age women would have been in the workforce then.

While economic conditions have changed since the pandemic's beginning, economist Kathryn Edwards at the RAND Corporation noted women still face pandemic-related challenges to rejoining the workforce. This includes waiting for guidance on and the opportunity to vaccinate their children, finding childcare after the pandemic brought exacerbated staffing challenges in the childcare industry, and schools temporarily closing that would require a parent to be home with their child.

PolitiFact ruling

PolitiFact: Mostly True

Allred said on Oct. 25 while advocating for spending bills like the Build Back Better bill, "You've had over 2 million women drop out of the workforce during this pandemic."

He accurately cited a comparison of the number of women in the labor force from February 2020 to February 2021.

However, the most recent data indicates many women have rejoined the labor force since February and the net number of women who dropped out of the workforce is a lower number, but not far off from Allred's 2 million. Roughly 1.8 million fewer women ages 16 and over are in the workforce compared to February 2020.

We rate this Mostly True. The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.