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Women’s labor participation returns to pre-COVID evels in U.S.

March 10, 2023 Updated Fri., March 10, 2023 at 4:01 p.m.

Job seekers wait in line during a job fair in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Ronda Churchill/Bloomberg)
Job seekers wait in line during a job fair in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ronda Churchill/Bloomberg)
By Catarina Saraiva Bloomberg

One year after the men, U.S. women saw their labor participation return to pre-pandemic levels last month.

The female labor force expanded to 77.8 million in February, the largest on records that go back to the 1940s, according to Labor Department data published Friday. The figure marks a milestone almost three years after COVID-19 caused job losses that disproportionately fell on women and minorities.

Americans overall returned to the labor force in droves last month, led by so-called prime-aged workers – those aged 25 to 54.

The gains were also widespread among minorities. The rate for Black Americans in that age group jumped to 81.8%, the highest since 2000. For Asian workers, the level rose 1.8 percentage points to 83.3%.

The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates aggressively to try and cool inflation that last year reached a four-decade high. Policymakers have argued that the labor market is too tight and that a lack of workers may be contributing to inflationary pressures.

An expanding labor force may help provide relief for employers bidding up wages in order to find the workers they need, bridling inflation. Friday’s report showed a cooling in earnings overall – although wages for production and nonsupervisory workers, who aren’t in management positions, rose the most in three months.

While most groups saw gains in employment, White and Hispanic men experienced net job losses in February. The unemployment rate for Latino men age 20 and over rose to 5%, the highest since September 2021. It has been increasing since November.

The overall male labor force recovered its pandemic losses a year ago, and has since expanded further.

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