Today’s jobs report for the month of March delivered excellent economic news.
The economy added over 900,000 jobs pushing the unemployment rate down to 6.1 percent, a new pandemic low. Sustained job growth at this level through the end of the year will return us to pre-pandemic employment levels.
The unemployment rate for women fell to 5.9 percent in March from 6.1 percent the previous month, and below the 6.2 percent unemployment rate for men.
Women were winners from March’s hiring boom. Here’s how:
- Women are coming back into the workforce. About 492,000 women re-entered the workforce. Meanwhile, 144,000 men left. The proportions of the number of men and women who dropped out of the workforce are now roughly equal. The labor force participation rate for women also ticked up for the third straight month to 56.1 percent. However, it has yet to reach its February 2020 level.
- Industries concentrated with women led hiring. Restaurants and bars added 176,000 jobs, accommodations added 40,000 jobs, and retailers added 23,000 jobs. Despite these gains, employment levels are still lower by 3.1 million in the leisure and hospitality sector from February 2020.
Reopening is the key to getting women back to work
There were three big—and not surprising—drivers behind March’s hiring spree: coronavirus vaccinations, states reopening, and kids resuming in-person education.
Some 99 million Americans (30 percent) have received their first coronavirus vaccine dose, and 55 million people (17 percent) are fully vaccinated according to the most recent CDC data. Those people, mostly older Americans, feel comfortable enough to leave their homes to shop, dine, and visit family.
More Americans are also resuming shopping and dining out flush with a $1,400 “stimmy” check or tax refund to burn, and that is reflected in the rise in hiring at restaurants and leisure. States and cities are also lifting restrictions on businesses. As a result, the anticipated consumer boom is in full swing.
In addition, working moms who prioritized their children’s virtual educations can now venture back into the workplace as school systems resume in-person learning.
While these trends are encouraging, several economic indicators remind us that the economy is still way off from its pre-pandemic employment strength. For example, the economy is still down about 8.5 million jobs from February 2020, and that doesn’t include the jobs that would have been added had there not been a pandemic.
Lawmakers listen up
As we enter better weather in spring and summer, Americans want to spend, dine, and travel. There’s pent-up demand that can turn into a massive economic boost for restaurants, shops, and the travel industry—not to mention public coffers.
In some cases, the generous pandemic unemployment benefits have discouraged workers from returning to work.
Meanwhile, governors, mayors, and municipal leaders should move swiftly to ease capacity limits and lift restrictions. This is the only way to accommodate the groundswell of demand from consumers who are ready to get back to normal.