Of the 1.1 million people who left the job market in September, more than 860,000 were women. We examine why women are dropping out of the workforce, and what it will mean for the economy.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Over 1 million people left the job market in September. More than 860,000 of them were women. Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia from Planet Money’s Indicator podcast examined how this recession is impacting women more than men.
STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Cassie Gafford (ph) knew she wanted to be a dentist from a young age. It wasn’t an easy path. The training was really intense.
CASSIE GAFFORD: Dental school is very grueling. It feels like it’s never going to end. And then, all of a sudden, it does. And you’re a dentist.
CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: Cassie joined a private practice in Philadelphia. And she loved the job.
GAFFORD: And then the pandemic hit.
GARCIA: Cassie’s dental practice closed as part of the mandated shutdown. And her daughter’s daycare also closed.
VANEK SMITH: The dental practice remained closed for months. But over the summer, the economic lockdown relaxed. The practice reopened. And Cassie’s boss gave her a call.
GAFFORD: He said, can you start back up in two weeks? And I had to take care of my family.
GARCIA: Cassie Gafford says that when her boss asked her to come back to work, it started off a long series of conversations with her husband.
GAFFORD: We’d talk about it over and over again, which is one of the more stressful things in our marriage, with me on the one hand worrying about my future as a dentist, him on the other hand worrying about our daughter being alive next year. It was just easiest for me to stay – continue to stay home.
GARCIA: This is the exact situation that millions of women across the U.S. are experiencing right now. That’s according to Martha Gimbel, an economist at Schmidt Futures who studies the labor market.
MARTHA GIMBEL: The problem is is that right now a lot of women don’t really have choices, right? They can’t send their kids to school. Someone has to supervise the learning. Someone has to deal with the cooking. Someone has to deal with the cleaning. And it’s falling onto them. And so they can’t make choices that they want to make.
GARCIA: Martha says that women are experiencing this more than men are. And there are a few reasons for this. For one thing, cultural precedent – Martha says that although things have changed tremendously for women, in heterosexual couples, at least, childcare and housework still tend to fall more on women.
VANEK SMITH: Also because women generally get paid less than men do, if a couple is making an economic decision, it often makes more sense for the woman to stop working. As a result, the share of women in the workforce is the lowest it’s been in decades.
GIMBEL: The problem is is that we have a lot of evidence that when you take time out of the labor force, it can be very difficult to get back in. And the other aspect of this is you are not then making progress in your career. You are not getting promoted. You are not building out skills and experience that will cause future employers to pay you more money.
GAFFORD: I am constantly worried about my career and the trajectory of my career. I’ve always wanted to be a dentist. And I was a dentist. I still am a dentist. But I’m not practicing in the way that I always thought I would. And that’s a little demoralizing. And yet, I know it’s the right decision for my family.
GARCIA: In the meantime, Cassie Gafford has started doing a little teaching. And she hopes to return to her dentistry practice as soon as it is safe for her family.
VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith.
GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF WHITNEY’S “RHODODENDRON”)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.