The economy notched a month of strong growth in February, surpassing expectations by adding 678,000 net jobs — more than half of which went to women.
According to new Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday, women gained 347,000 new net jobs in the economy, or 51 percent, while men gained 331,000. The growth for women was driven by big increases in hiring in hospitality and health care.
Hospitality added 179,000 jobs last month, 70 percent of them in restaurants. About a third of the 64,000 jobs added in health care were in home health care services, a field that is nearly 90 percent women. Child care also added about 8,000 jobs in February, helping a workforce that is 95 percent women return to jobs, but also supporting the working women who rely on child care to go to work.
But the recovery continues to churn ahead unequally.
In BLS’ survey of households, which is a separate measure from the survey of establishments that produces that net and industry figures, about 48,000 women reported leaving the labor force, compared to the 479,000 men who reported joining it.
When broken down by race, it’s clear women of color are still struggling, particularly Black women. About 31,000 Black women left the workforce entirely in February, meaning they were unemployed and not looking for work. They were the only group who saw their unemployment rate rise slightly, from 5.8 percent in January to 6.1 percent in February.
Asian women saw their unemployment rate drop to 2.7 percent, but that was because so many Asian women also left the labor force in February — about 112,000.
“For a recovery that has been very inconsistent… one of the consistent things has been its unevenness,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, a labor market policy analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
About 20,000 Latinas joined the workforce, edging their unemployment rate to 4.8 percent, and White women saw the most gains: 143,000 joined the workforce. The unemployment rate for White women remains at 3.1 percent, marking the third straight month that their rate has been below March 2020 levels.
BLS does not collect data on nonbinary people, and typically does not have monthly data on Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Last month, BLS started to report monthly unemployment figures for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives in January, but it does not break that data out by gender and does not adjust it for seasonal trends. In February, the unemployment rate for that group was 7.4 percent, down from 11.1 percent in January.
Overall, as of the start of 2022, men have already recouped their pandemic job loss. By February there were about 500,000 more men in the workforce than there were in February 2020 before the pandemic. About 1.1 million women are still missing from the labor force.
It’s unclear what exactly is driving some of the month-to-month variability in the labor force figures, and economists stress not to put too much focus on an individual month.
What is clear is that the volatility of low-wage jobs where women of color are concentrated could be contributing to some of the drops seen in Black women’s figures, for example. About 95 percent of the lowest-wage workers in the country don’t have access to paid leave, and women are likely to see more work disruptions because of care responsibilities for children or other family members.
Although the Omicron coronavirus wave has ended, the impact of school closures and work disruptions during that time could still be hurting workers.
“When care responsibilities change day to day or week to week or month to month, that can have medium- and long-term effects on the jobs, especially if the job has unpredictable schedules or unpredictable hours, does not offer paid leave, if you can’t secure child care, can’t afford child care” Zickuhr said. And this could impact your job prospects down the line. “There is still a lot of unpredictability here.”