Joblessness and the “Care Chasm”: Why Women Drop Out of the Workforce
There was a lot of focus on a dearth of middle-class jobs for men in the United States during the recent presidential election. This discussion centered on the loss of good-paying manufacturing and mining jobs for men, which have been in decline since the 1960s due to automation and globalization. Not much attention has been paid, however, to the declining number of women in the US workforce. This trend is the opposite of trends in women’s employment in other industrialized countries. What explains this difference for women in the United States?
While the decline in workforce participation for working-class men began in the 1960s, the slide for women’s participation did not begin until the early 2000s. Patricia Cohen of the New York Times explains that the drop in women’s workforce participation occurred for different reasons than it did for men. During this period, women have been earning college degrees in greater numbers; also, service sector jobs, where women are traditionally concentrated, have been growing.
So why have women been dropping out of the workforce? Cohen notes that we do not have the family support policies in the United States that other industrialized countries have. In fact, here “women are still the primary caregivers—for children, aging parents, and ailing relatives.” Women often cite caregiving responsibility as the reason they are unable to hold on to unstable and inflexible jobs.
Cohen cites economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, who reports, “Hardly any men who have dropped out say it is because they are helping with children or other family members.” Eberstadt goes on to note that a “care chasm” explains the stark contrast between women’s workforce participation in the United States and their participation rate in Europe. He explains that European countries with comprehensive family support policies have seen women’s labor force participation go up since 2000, while ours has plummeted.
We need to demand that our legislators support policies for affordable child care, paid family leave, elder care support, and a living wage in the United States. Family support policies are good for all of us and for our economy.