More Than Half of April's Job Gains Went to Women – But 1 Million Women Are Still Missing From the Labor Force

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The U.S. economy added 428,000 jobs last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, edging just above the 400,000 new hires economists had predicted amid a tight labor market and surging inflation. 

April also marked the third straight month of significant job growth for women, who gained about 65% of the new positions created, reports the National Women's Law Center. Women gained jobs across major sectors last month, including leisure and hospitality, retail trade, government and the education and health services sector, according to the NWLC's analysis.

Yet women still lag behind men in economic recovery: 181,000 women left the labor force in April, compared to 131,000 men, and there are still close to one million fewer women working or actively seeking a new job than in February 2020. The NWLC calculates that women account for 70% of the jobs lost in the last two years.

Overall, April's jobs report carries both "good news and bad news" for women, Jasmine Tucker, the NWLC's director of research, tells CNBC Make It. "We're heading in the right direction jobs-wise, and it's encouraging to see women gain jobs across a variety of industries, but unemployment levels are artificially low because hundreds of thousands of women still left the labor force last month."

Some women-dominated sectors are still struggling. The child care sector, for example, added a mere 2,700 jobs in April, and about 1 in 10 of its jobs (9.8%) that existed before the Covid-19 pandemic are still missing.

And several groups of women saw a drop in unemployment last month: Latinas (4.2% to 3.8%), Asian women (2.6% to 2.4%) and Black women (5.5.% to 5.0%), while the unemployment rate for white women remained unchanged at 2.8%. The unemployment rate for all people held at 3.6%, slightly higher than economists' expectations of 3.5%.

So, what's driving these departures? Tucker points to a "perfect storm" of rising Covid-19 cases, return-to-office mandates, increased levels of burnout and major quitting contagion continuing to spread among the labor force.

Burnout and stress have reached "alarming levels" for working women, a recent report from Deloitte warns, with 53% of women reporting higher stress levels than a year ago and 46% of women saying they feel burned out. Deloitte's report surveyed 5,000 women from different countries and industries between November 2021 and February 2022.

That could help explain why job turnover in the U.S. is at a historic high: 4.5 million people quit their jobs in March, up from 4.35 million people in February, according to the Labor Department's latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover report, which was released earlier this week. 

"Workers have had it and they want better from their employers," Tucker says, citing the recent wave of unionization at businesses like REI and Starbucks.

The NWLC estimates that it would take about three months of growth at April's rate for women to recoup all of their job losses since the pandemic began. Companies can help close that employment gap by asking their female employees how to better support them — whether through childcare stipends, more flexible schedules, different health insurance policies or other benefits.

As Tucker adds: "Companies shouldn't wait for a law to pass, or the situation to become dire, to take action to improve working conditions for their employees."

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