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More than half of the job gains in May went to women

This article was originally published by The 19th on June 4, 2021.

Women made up more than half of the job gains in May, and unemployment rates for women dropped across racial categories last month as the economy added more than half a million jobs, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overall, 559,000 net jobs were added in May, a sign of a rebound after a disappointing April that came in far below economists’ projections. Of those, 56 percent, or 314,000, went to women, according to BLS’ survey of employers. The bureau uses two surveys each month to paint a picture of the U.S. economy: one that surveys establishments and one that surveys households.

In the household survey, 204,000 women reported rejoining the labor force, reversing the trend in April when 165,000 women left. In May, 151,000 men exited the workforce, meaning they were unemployed and had stopped looking for work altogether.

The reason for that, across genders, is still in part because of the pandemic. Some 2.5 million people said they were prevented from looking for work last month because of the pandemic.

Still, unemployment rates continued to drop in May, though they are still not at pre-pandemic levels.

For women overall, the unemployment rate in May was 5.6 percent. The rate continues to be highest for Black women at 8.2 percent and Latinas at 7.4 percent and lowest for white women at 4.8 percent.

The improved numbers signal that jobs are returning in the fields that women dominate. In April 2020 alone, half of all of the jobs in the hospitality industry were lost — a loss that helped trigger the first women’s recession in American history because of the sheer volume of women who held those jobs.

Hospitality jobs have been steadily returning this year. In May 292,000 hospitality jobs were added, on top of 328,000 in April and 227,000 in March.

That means that more than half of all of the job gains in May were because of the jobs added in hospitality.

The public sector — government and education jobs largely held by women and predominantly women of color — also rebounded last month. Employment rose in local government education (53,000), state government education (50,000) and private education (41,000) as in-person learning resumed. About 86 percent of the job gains in the public sector in May went to women.

In the past month, employers have claimed a labor shortage has made it difficult for them to attract workers to open positions, while workers have claimed that employers are not willing to pay more for jobs. Last month, thousands of workers, led by women, held strikes across the nation calling for higher wages.

According to BLS, employers are listening: For the past two months, hourly wages for private employees have risen 21 cents in April and 15 cents in May, a significant increase.

“The data for the last two months suggest that the rising demand for labor associated with the recovery from the pandemic may have put upward pressure on wages,” BLS said.