A million more men returned to labor force than women in January


The super-tight labor market pushed lots of men back to work in January, but women were held back by Omicron.

More than 1 million men surged into the job market last month, coming off the sidelines and either looking for a job or getting a job, compared to just 39,000 women, according to government data released Friday.

The Labor Department doesn't offer an explainer on these numbers, but it's not a leap to assume this is about child care. Issues with schools and daycare centers kept women, who are typically primary caregivers to children, out of the workforce throughout the pandemic — and it's still happening.

  • This holds back the economic recovery, keeping women on the sidelines at a time when companies are desperate to hire.
  • Women with young children at home, who might have considered going back to work, likely couldn't because of unstable school and child care schedules.
  • "We don't have the data that says, 'it was because of child care but we can hear their voices screaming out behind the numbers," said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women's Law Center, which published a report on this data.

Women are in a tough spot, as there's still a shortage of child care workers and the possibility of school scheduling snafus with future variants.

  • There is no real policy fix on the horizon, now that Build Back Better is dead.
  • Child care providers operate on tight margins and don't pay well, and in a tight labor market, they're having a hard time finding workers — fueling the crisis.
  • One state's solution is to deregulate its daycare centers, giving child care workers more children to look after; a widely criticized move that could put children's safety in danger, as Jonathan Cohn reports.

 The January numbers are less terrible than what happened to women back in September 2020, when hundreds of thousands of women left the workforce even as kids went back to school.

 The pandemic exacerbated long-simmering issues that American parents, particularly women, face when it comes to managing work and family. Early on in the pandemic, there were signs and hopes that these problems would be addressed. Now, it's clear, women are on their own.

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