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On the state of women in the labor force in 2023

Following post-pandemic trends, women are returning to the labor force in positively trending numbers, marking a good sign for equal labor.

A group of women working together and standing over a table as part of the labor force, chatting animatedly.

Due to a profound economic rebound, there has been a significant increase in women’s engagement in the labor force, reaching unprecedented levels. The employment of prime-age women has returned to pre-pandemic levels, indicating a positive trend. However, it is important to acknowledge that persistent wage disparities and occupational segregation continue to pose challenges. 

Employment plays a crucial role in ensuring women’s economic stability, promoting social equality, and fostering a strong and sustainable economy that benefits everyone. Presently, around three-quarters of women in their prime working age, typically between 25 and 54 years old, are actively employed. This represents an increase from just over two-thirds a decade ago. 

Furthermore, a significant proportion of employed prime-age women, specifically 84 percent, are engaged in full-time work, indicating their dedication and contribution. It’s important to recognize these achievements considering the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affected women’s employment. 

As a result of strategic fiscal measures implemented by policymakers, including the American Rescue Plan, the U.S. economy made a remarkable recovery from the COVID-19 recession, reaching pre-pandemic employment levels as early as August 2022. This recovery has extended to women’s employment, which has also returned to pre-pandemic levels, along with other positive indicators. As of January 2023: 

  • The overall employment rate for women has reached an impressive 99.9 percent, indicating a high level of workforce participation. Specifically, prime-age women have achieved a full recovery with employment levels standing at 100.0 percent of what they were in February 2020, before the onset of the pandemic.
  •  Prime-age women have achieved a remarkable labor force participation rate of 77.0 percent, surpassing the 2019 level of 76.0 percent. This achievement establishes a new record high, reflecting the increased proportion of women actively engaged in either employment or actively seeking work. 
  • The employment-to-population ratio for prime-age women has experienced a significant surge, reaching 74.7 percent. This surpasses the previous high-water mark of 73.7 percent in 2019, indicating a substantial increase in the proportion of employed women within the prime-age population.
  • In December 2022, there was a notable increase of 993,000 mothers who were actively employed compared to the previous year. 
  • Mothers with children under the age of 5 have experienced a slower recovery in terms of employment compared to mothers with school-age children. However, even within this group, the employment rate has reached 99.2 percent of the pre-pandemic level, indicating a significant rebound.

All in all, women’s employment has strengthened to new levels. However, the presence of young children at home continues to have a disproportionate impact on women’s employment opportunities. This effect is particularly pronounced for mothers with the youngest children, and it was a prevailing issue even before the onset of the COVID-19 recession. Moreover, substantial gender disparities in employment rates between mothers and fathers persist, highlighting ongoing challenges in achieving equitable workforce participation.

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Macie LaCau is a passionate writer, herbal educator, and dog enthusiast. She spends most of her time overthinking and watering her tiny tomatoes.


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