The history of women being pushed out of the workforce

Over the final 12 months, numerous headlines have framed the financial fallout from the pandemic as the first feminine recession. Whereas total job losses between males and women now appear relatively comparable, the pandemic has uniquely affected many working women, and particularly working moms.

In December 2019, earlier than COVID-19 gained a foothold in the U.S., the share of women on payrolls had really outpaced the share of males. However since the begin of the pandemic, thousands and thousands of women have misplaced their jobs or been pushed out of the labor pressure. Industries that make use of extra women have been hit significantly laborious throughout the pandemic, from hospitality to meals service. Women usually tend to maintain low-wage jobs, with Black and Latinx women represented in larger numbers, which left many of them weak to the virus and at the mercy of a flailing economic system.

In the absence of in-person education or reasonably priced childcare, some working moms stopped working to care for his or her kids, whereas these juggling distant work and caregiving obligations reportedly reduce on their working hours by four to five times greater than their male counterparts have.


However this isn’t the first occasion of women being knocked out of the workforce. On this week’s bonus episode of The New Approach We Work, we glance again at the precarious place women have lengthy occupied in the labor pressure.

The Nice Melancholy

At the flip of the century, the majority of women didn’t work outdoors of the house. Solely about 20% of women in 1900 had “gainful occupations,” according to the Census. Those that labored outdoors of the house have been sometimes Black women—greater than 40% of whom have been employed at the time—or single.

However in the many years main as much as the Nice Melancholy, towards the backdrop of the women’s suffrage motion, an increasing number of women entered the workforce; by 1930, practically half of single women and virtually 12% of married women were reportedly working. When thousands and thousands of males misplaced their jobs after the inventory market crash of 1929, many women began working to assist assist their households. The truth is, the quantity of working women jumped from about 10.5 million in 1930 to 13 million in 1940.

That’s largely as a result of the jobs that have been accessible have been perceived as women’s work—jobs like instructing—weren’t practically as affected by the inventory market. These jobs additionally paid much less consequently. Black women, who had been working for greater than 50 years, discovered it particularly troublesome to search out work that paid an inexpensive wage.

Males and women merely weren’t searching for out the identical jobs. But it surely wasn’t lengthy earlier than women—and even folks of shade—have been scapegoated for taking work away from them. “Males grew indignant, scared, and determined as the thought took maintain that women staff have been, if not the major trigger of the Nice Melancholy, at the very least exacerbating the drawback,” creator Ijeoma Oluo wrote in her guide Mediocre: The Harmful Legacy of White Male America. This sentiment was largely held by white males, Oluo says, because it was much more widespread for Black women to work, even beneath regular circumstances.

Married women, particularly, were vilified for being employed throughout the Nice Melancholy, since the assumption at the time was that they have been already offered for by a partner. The truth is, many companies outright banned married women from working, and in 1932, even the federal authorities intervened, decreeing that just one partner might work a authorities job at any given time; by 1940, twenty-six states additionally restricted the employment of married women in authorities jobs. The federal invoice was repealed simply 5 years later—however by then, numerous women had already given up their jobs.

World Warfare II

When greater than 16 million men left to serve in World Warfare II, firms had no selection however to recruit women and other people of shade to fill vacancies in factories and throughout different jobs. That included courting married white women, who employers thought might be simply dismissed from their positions as soon as the warfare was over. “Married women, demonized for working throughout the Nice Melancholy as a result of they clearly didn’t have to work,” writes Oluo, “grew to become the preferrred candidates for wartime employment for the exact same motive—they didn’t should work!”


Throughout the warfare, six and a half million women joined the workforce, which meant virtually 25% of married women have been working outdoors of their properties. They have been lastly doing the identical work as males—and a few have been even paid equally for it, although that was largely a ploy to make sure males can be paid at the identical charges after they returned from warfare. Working situations for women additionally improved as a result of so many of them needed to stability childcare obligations with their jobs. This led to the introduction of the Lanham Act, which put federal and state funds towards childcare facilities that served women who have been aiding in the warfare efforts.

As the warfare got here to an finish, the authorities centered on the right way to transition males again into the workforce and guarantee there have been sufficient jobs for them. Although many women needed to maintain working, thousands and thousands of them have been laid off, whereas others have been shifted into pink-collar or low-skilled jobs that have been deemed extra acceptable for his or her station. By 1946, the childcare funding offered by the Lanham Act was additionally terminated, regardless of the protests of working women and arranged demonstrations in New York Metropolis. The males who didn’t get plum jobs have been taken care of with the G.I. Invoice, which promised loans, unemployment insurance coverage, tuition help, and extra and helped increase the white center class. Although Black veterans have been entitled to the identical advantages, that they had much more hassle accessing them as a result of discrimination, and solely a small fraction of women reaped the advantages of the G.I. Invoice.

Many individuals consider World Warfare II laid the groundwork for the women’s liberation motion that adopted in many years to come back, between the symbolism of Rosie the Riveter and the financial freedoms afforded to working women. It’s true that women’s participation in the labor pressure steadily increased beginning in the Fifties, hitting a peak of 60% in 1999. In the previous 12 months, that determine has slipped to 57%, however women’s labor pressure participation was already slowing previous to the pandemic. In any case, the very challenges that women confronted throughout and after the warfare—an absence of childcare assist and low-wage jobs with poor working situations and endemic sexual harassment—nonetheless threaten their standing in the workforce greater than 70 years later.

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