Women Are Leaving the Workforce at a Staggering Rate — Here’s Why

woman checking the time in front of the office
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It’s an exciting week for a data nerd like me — especially a data nerd who happens to work on articles about jobs and hiring.

On Monday, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released a fresh labor market survey that shines a new light on how the job situation looks in the U.S. It’s got more than 200 variables collected from a survey of about 1,300 people with answers stretching back to 2014. (Cue the heavy breathing.)

But the new numbers are actually pretty depressing — especially for women.

More than 7% of women surveyed left their jobs between April and June — with no plans to find new ones, according to the Survey of Consumer Expectations Labor Market Survey. That’s the highest amount since the New York Fed started collecting data in 2014.

That reaffirms worries about women fleeing the labor market and the effects it could have on U.S. productivity. I mean, there are more than 51 million women over the age of 20 who aren’t interested in a job as of June.

Why Are So Many Women Leaving the Workforce?

Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, addressed the issue of women in the workforce in a May speech at Brown University.

“I have argued thus far that we, as a country, have reaped great benefits from the increasing role that women have played in the economy,” she said. “But evidence suggests that barriers to women’s continued progress remain.”

Sure, with an aging population, the entire workforce appears to be shrinking. But men’s labor force participation rate plateaued at 88% while the rate for women leveled off at around 75% in recent years, she explained.

Yellen argued that lack of opportunity for advancement and the struggle to balance home and work life are largely to blame.

And the data certainly doesn’t lie.

In that new survey I was salivating over earlier, only 41% of women said they were satisfied with promotion opportunities in their current line of work. That total is down more than 12% from the same timeframe last year and six points below how men answered the same question.

And if you want to find out how much childcare costs in your state, check out these numbers courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute. It can cost as much as $22,000 to raise a kid each year, and that means it just becomes a better option for some new moms to leave the workforce.

Sadly, most people are unprepared for the financial situation they’re getting into when they have a child.

Here Are Some Solutions to Help Women Hang on to Their Jobs

Right now, only five states offer guaranteed paid leave for workers.

That’s a problem, reports the International Business Times on the declining labor participation rate.

“Paid parental leave makes re-entry into the labor market easier, since workers are entitled to their old jobs back,” Cornell economist Lawrence Kahn told the IBT. “But it also actually encourages women to get into the labor market even before they have children, because it’s a benefit you can only qualify for you if you have a job. The benefit actually serves to bring people into the labor market so they can qualify for the benefit in the first place.”

If the U.S. were to enact a paid parental leave policy, it could pump up the lagging participation numbers. It would also bring the country in line with most of the world.

As for dealing with the lack of advancement, a LeanIn.org and McKinsey report on women in the workplace in 2016, recommends companies require a diverse slate of candidates for internal promotions. Last year, less than half of companies reported such a requirement.

One thing is for sure — something’s gotta give.

As Yellen said in that Brown speech, “If these obstacles persist, we will squander the potential of many of our citizens and incur a substantial loss to the productive capacity of our economy at a time when the aging of the population and weak productivity growth are already weighing on economic growth.”

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.

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