Why are women sitting out a red-hot job market?

Daycare, transportation and stimulus all factors
Posted at 8:53 AM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 14:51:52-04

CINCINNATI — Terana Boyd is grateful to have a flexible job and reliable daycare, but she understands those who have opted out of the region’s red-hot job market.

“It can be overwhelming,” said Boyd, customer service coordinator for Cincinnati Works. “What’s most important is having a job to be able to provide for your family, but also having a safe place for your child to be at while you’re working. You get help. You get assistance. But as soon as you make a dollar or two over, then it gets taken away. And now you’re struggling to pay, back at square one.”

Boyd’s experience offers a glimpse at the complicated calculus that has kept roughly 2.7 million women from returning to the work force after the COVID-19 pandemic. Figures released by the U.S. Department of Labor Friday showed 309,000 women stopped looking for work without having a job in September. It was one of the biggest dips in employment by women since the start of the pandemic.

The labor force participation rate for women hasn't bounced back from the pandemic.

“Usually, early in a recovery or an expansion, where we are right now, there’s lots of people looking for work. And it’s just not the case right now,” said Ben Ayers, senior economist for Nationwide Insurance. “We’re hoping that by the end of 2022, we’re talking about more normal conditions.”

Ayers said the primary cause of September’s dip was a lack of reliable daycare and concerns about school closures caused by COVID-19. But another factor is that many families have some financial cushion, thanks to the pandemic.

“A lot of households saved money over the past year and a half, whether they weren’t spending as much or maybe they were getting a bit higher wage or they pocketed some of that (stimulus) money that came from the government,” Ayers said. “Eventually, those households that need that second job are going to come back in. I think, to this point, it just hasn’t been a necessity yet.”

Men returned to the work force in higher percentages than women.

Many experts predicted women would return to work in September, as kids returned to school and federal unemployment benefits ended in all states. But an expanded child tax credit – which offers monthly payments of up to $300 per child from July to December – eased the financial pressure for many working families.

“We’re seeing probably a 15% reduction in actual candidates in the door,” said Brian Kraner, owner of Spherion Staffing of Greater Cincinnati, which scouts for workers to fill warehouse and call center jobs.

Kraner said transportation and daycare issues are the biggest reasons workers are either not taking those jobs or leaving them within days of getting hired.

“We would typically see about a 30% turnover rate. (Now) we're seeing about a 45% and often times it’s ‘My daycare fell through’ or ‘They're closed because of COVID,’ those type of reasonings,” Kraner said. “What we’ve also heard is the recent tax credit. They have a little added financial (resources) so it’s not a total hit to them” to stay home.

Staffing shortages in child care centers are exacerbating Cincinnati’s labor shortage, said Vanessa Freytag, CEO of 4C for Children, a nonprofit that promotes better child care by educating the adults that operate them. Freytag has been polling local daycare operators about the impact of the local teacher shortage.

“The programs that responded so far have approximately 3,800 seat capacity,” Freytag said. “There are 880 seats unavailable because they don’t have teachers. So, about 23% of seats in those programs are inaccessible to parents because of the extreme teacher shortage.”

Given those numbers, it isn’t surprising that women have yet to return to the work force.

“Someone has to take care of the children. And usually, in the home, it is the woman,” said Darlene Gray, a career development coach at Cincinnati Works. “It has a major impact on our members because a lot of our members are living in poverty. So they need to work and some of them desire to work, but they can’t work because they have nowhere to leave their children.”