A new gender gap surfaces. Men recovered all jobs lost during the pandemic. Women have not.

  • The economy has recovered all 22 million jobs lost in the pandemic, but with a key disparity.
  • Men recouped all 10 million of their vanished jobs but women, who lost 11.9 million positions, are still 100,000 shy of their pre-COVID mark.
  • The reason is industries that got hit hardest in the pandemic -- restaurants, education, health care -- tend to employ more women.

Last month, the U.S. added a booming 528,000 jobs and now has recovered all 22 million lost in the pandemic.

But the milestone masks another type of gender gap (that’s not about wages).

Men recouped all 10.1 million of their vanished jobs and topped their February 2020 level by 132,000 in July, Labor Department figures show. Yet women, who lost 11.9 million positions during the crisis, are still 100,000 shy of their pre-COVID-19 mark, according to a Labor survey of employers that results in the headline job gains.

That’s not a huge gap. But a separate survey of households – that determines the 3.5% unemployment rate – shows women further behind. According to that poll, men are 24,000 jobs below their pre-pandemic peak while women are 552,000 jobs short. 

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Men have recovered their jobs lost in the pandemic while women are still catching up.

Why are women still catching up?

It's COVID-19's lopsided impact on the fields they dominate.

“The industries that got hit hardest in the pandemic tend to employ more women,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.

For example, leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants and bars, was clobbered by government shutdowns and Americans’ social-distancing behaviors during COVID-19. The sector lost 8.2 million jobs in spring 2020 and is still 1.2 million positions below its peak as it struggles to hire workers.

Women make up 53.1% of the leisure and hospitality workforce, according to a National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) analysis of Labor data.

Some of those jobs are lower-paying and “not as desirable,” keeping more women from regaining their prior employment levels, says Nicole Mason, head of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women also comprise 77.1% of the staff in education and health services, NWLC says, including teachers and nurses. That sector is still about 100,000 jobs short of its pre-pandemic level, in part because of burnout and hospital cost-cutting, says Moody’s economist Sophia Koropeckyj.

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And women account for 58.1% of the government workforce, according to NWLC. Public-sector payrolls are still nearly 600,000 jobs below their pre-COVID-19 mark, with most of the gap in state and local governments.

State and local agencies have had a harder time attracting and retaining employees than businesses, largely because of smaller pay increases and a reluctance to embrace remote work and more flexible hours, according to the National League of Cities, the National Association of Towns and Townships and Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Meanwhile, male-dominated industries such as manufacturing; construction and transportation; and warehousing have more than recovered their lost jobs. That’s at least partly because of a surge in homebuying and construction, along with purchases of TVs, appliances and furniture as people hunkered down at home during the health crisis.

Recent jobs data shows male-dominated industries such as manufacturing; construction and transportation; and warehousing have more than recovered their jobs lose during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although men have recovered their lost jobs more rapidly, women are closer to reclaiming their pre-COVID-19 labor force participation rate, or their share of the population working or looking for jobs.

Women are a percentage point below their pre-pandemic participation rate of 57.9% while men are 1.7 percentage points short of their pre-COVID-19 level of 69.3%. Many women with child care responsibilities returned to the workforce as schools reopened, Mason says.

Rakesh Kochhar, a senior researcher for Pew Research Center, partly blames a long-term decline in men’s labor force participation.

That has been attributed to a drop in male educational attainment, a rise in substance abuse and heavy video game use, among other factors, according to a study last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.