Prior to COVID-19, More Women in the Workforce than Ever Before

The data reported in the Employment and Earnings Index, from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, highlights a pressing need to center women and families in economic programs and policymaking as the country transitions to recovery from the pandemic.  

The “she-cession”, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has created economic instability for women across the United States. The brief provides an important baseline to measure the effect of the "she-cession” on women’s employment and earnings as the pandemic begins to recede.   

Before the pandemic, women’s employment and earnings were improving nationwide. The institute’s data from 2019 indicates that more women were in the workforce than ever before, the gender wage gap had narrowed, and women continued to enter managerial and professional occupations at a growing rate.  

The rankings and grades provided in the report rely on a combination of states’ performance on four indicators: women’s earnings, the gender wage gap, women’s labor force participation, and women’s representation in managerial and professional occupations.   

The District of Columbia maintained its A grade and top overall ranking on the Index since the last report in 2018, scoring #1 in three of the four indicators. Maryland and Massachusetts rank second and third overall according to the Index, a trend that has remained constant in previous years.   

Vermont reported making significant improvements in recent years, moving from #12 in 2018 to #5, tying with New York. The states in the Northeast region reported some of the highest scores, ranking the best for women in Employment and Earnings.   

West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Wyoming rank as the worst states for women in Employment and Earnings at the bottom of the Index, each earning an F grade and performing poorly in every indicator.   

The states scoring the lowest on the indicator reported having the lowest earnings in the United States, the widest wage gaps, the lowest earnings ratios as compared to men, and the lowest share of women in the workforce. Women in low-scoring states Nevada, Idaho, and Indiana were also found to be the least likely to work in managerial and professional occupations.   

Almost one-third of states received a D or F grade, indicating that there is significant work to be done for improvement. The report asserts that pandemic fueled “she-cession”, combined with existing challenges faced by women and families, “shows the need for meaningful policy changes to ensure economic security for all women and families.”   

The policy recommendations in the brief provide ideas for both national and state-level policymakers to improve women’s economic security.   

The brief urges policymakers, employers, and advocates to support policies such as establishing a national child-care system, rebuilding social safety nets, and improving job quality and labor standards in addition to policies that invest in the public sector and provide aid to states, invest in targeted programs for gender equity, and support women business owners to reduce barriers to equity in women’s employment and earnings and improve conditions.

The District of Columbia was the only recipient of an A grade. 17 states followed, receiving grades in the B range. The data given creates an understanding of the progress made and the continued barriers that women face in the workforce.  

Download the full report here.

About the Author
Kennedy Miller is an intern in the Research and External Affairs department at IPMA-HR and a student at the University of Maryland studying marketing and journalism. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.


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