women employment strides

US Women Made Great Gains in Employment in May 2021, Reversing Job-Loss Trends From COVID-19

May turned out to be a very good month for America’s working women. A new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has revealed that more than half of new jobs gained in the United States last month went to women.

After reviewing the numbers, Chabeli Carrazana of nonprofit newsroom The 19th reported that “overall, 559,000 net jobs were added in May, a sign of a modest rebound after a disappointing April that came in far below economists’ projections.” 

Of those new positions, 56%, or 314,000 new jobs, were filled by women. In contrast to April 2021, when 165,000 women left the workforce, the numbers in May were drastically different, with 204,000 women reportedly rejoining the labor force. The gender divide in May also turned in the other direction, with 151,000 men exiting the workforce (meaning that they had become unemployed and had stopped looking for work altogether).

The pandemic continues to be the catalyst for that back-and-forth vacillation in job gains and losses. BLS data shows that more than 2.5 million people still say COVID-19 is the primary reason they have been unable to look for work.

Carrazana reported that even with the fluctuations, unemployment levels have continued to decline in recent months — although they have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels.

“For women overall, the unemployment rate in May was 5.6%,” Carrazana reported. “The rate continues to be highest for Black women at 8.2% and Latinas at 7.4% and lowest for White women at 4.8%.”

According to employment experts, the improved numbers suggest that employment opportunities are beginning to come back most abundantly in fields where women dominate, such as hospitality.

“In April 2020 alone, half of all of the jobs in the hospitality industry were lost — a loss that helped trigger the first women’s recession in American history because of the sheer volume of women who held those positions,” Carrazana reported. “Hospitality jobs have been steadily returning this year. In May [2021], 292,000 hospitality jobs were added on top of 328,000 in April and 227,000 in March.”

According to Carrazana, employment in the public sector also made a big comeback last month — and government and education jobs predominantly filled by women.

“Employment rose in local government education (53,000), state government education (50,000) and private education (41,000) as in-person learning resumed. About 63% of the job gains in the public sector in May went to women,” Carrazana reported. 

Another bit of good news for women returning to work: salaries are beginning to increase as well. Although the boost is slight, “hourly wages for private employees have risen 21 cents in April and 15 cents in May, a significant increase for an economy with 144 million workers,” Carrazana said, citing BLS figures.

According to the BLS, “the data for the last two months suggests that the rising demand for the labor associated with the recovery from the pandemic may have put upward pressure on wages.”

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.


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