Women in the Workforce

Why women are withdrawing from the workforce

by Liz Olson

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Between the start of the women’s movement in the 1960s and the beginning of the 21st century, women were entering the workforce in droves. Why then, has there then been a noticeable withdrawal of women from the U.S. labor force as the 21st century progresses?

The major catalyst in the exodus of women from the U.S. workforce is proving to be a poor economy. New data from a Congressional study, “Equality in Job Loss,” conducted by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, shows that women in all occupations have been afflicted by layoffs, pay cuts, and stagnant positions and salaries.

According to the JEC study, 74.9% of women between the ages of 24 to 54 were employed in 2000. In 2008, there were only 72.7%—an equivalent of four million fewer female workers in the workforce. In addition, 298,000 have women have lost jobs since December 2007. Between 2001 and 2008, in the manufacturing industry alone, there was a decline of one million women employed.

At first, many assumed the decline was due to more women choosing to stay home for personal reasons, mainly to raise their children or to run their home.

But data shows that because many women have had stagnant salaries or their earnings cut in half since 2000, they have chosen to not work rather than be paid significantly less. During the 1990s, when wages steadily increased, women consistently applied for jobs. With wage stagnation in the 21st century, women have been discouraged from seeking employment.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the median pay per hour for women fell from $15.04 in 2004 to $14.84 in 2007. In addition, EPI reports that 31.4% of women earned poverty-level wages or less in 2007.

Despite a highly productive workforce in the United States from 2001 to 2008, both men and women are not receiving the fruits of their labor. With what many observers call a recession taking place in 2008, unless a change occurs, men and women will end the cycle with less income than they had at the beginning, according to “The State of Working America 2008/2009.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics
The State of Working America
The Joint Economic Committee

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