Among the report’s scariest signs? The share of Americans working or looking for work, known as the labor-force participation rate, declined among prime working ages (25-54) in September.
The drop was driven by plunging participation rates among women, just as the school year went into full swing in much of the country.
Of the nearly 1.1 million people who stopped working, or looking for work, in September, almost 80 percent were women. Many economists say it’s a clear sign of the child-care burden falling mainly on working mothers.
Mothers like April Smith are facing impossible decisions, as they must choose between earning money during an unprecedented economic crisis, and staying home to shepherd their children through chaotic virtual classes.
Smith, 31, is a single mother of three kids in school. She lost her restaurant job in Louisiana in March and later learned it was a permanent layoff: the restaurant won’t be reopening. Her family is surviving on $93 a week in unemployment. Smith is behind on rent and owes close to $500 in utilities, putting her in danger of losing electricity.
In recent weeks, she stopped looking for work. She’s struggling to manage her children’s classes, and she said she was feeling discouraged by how few jobs are available. Her kids alternate between in-person schooling and virtual learning from home. Smith decided to enroll in an online training course herself to become a phlebotomist.
“I’m barely making it right now,” Smith said. “I’m hoping the health-care field will be better.”
Early on in the crisis, the vast majority of workers believed their layoffs would be temporary. But more workers like Smith are learning their jobs are gone for good. The ranks of the permanent job losers has more than tripled since the crisis began, and economists predict the ultimate damage