Report | October 18, 2021

Female Labor Force Participation Is Key To PA’s Economic Recovery

Policymakers must address the commonwealth’s child care crisis and help women return to work

The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted women’s employment. In the first quarter of 2021, female workforce participation nationwide was at its lowest rate in more than 30 years, and is not expected to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels until late 2024. In Pennsylvania, unemployment insurance claims were higher for women than for men from January 2020 to January 2021, peaking at 22.3 percent (vs. 19.3 percent for men). More than four times as many Pennsylvania women were unemployed in December 2020 than in December 2019.

Returning women to work is key to Pennsylvania’s economic recovery. Lack of child care was an important driver of women exiting the workforce, as both schools and child care providers closed, and many mothers left work to care for their children.

Pennsylvania’s state and federal policymakers must support families’ access to high-quality, affordable child care options. In the near term, state officials must fully leverage all available federal child care and pandemic-relief funds to stabilize the current care system and prevent more closures. Longer term, state and federal officials must approve additional recurring investments in the child care sector to address systemic issues like low staff wages, inadequate reimbursement rates for providers participating in the subsidized child care program, and a shortage of high-quality care. For Pennsylvania’s economy to stabilize and thrive, access to affordable, quality child care for working families must be of paramount concern.

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