At its peak in 1999, the American workforce was dominated by female workers. At that time, 76 percent of women, including those who had children at home, worked outside of the home, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The tides have since shifted, and rates of female employment in the United States now fall well behind many European countries. Economic woes, a short supply of middle-class jobs and minimal family leave may have prompted the changes.
According to a study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University, single women without children have actually driven the turnaround. Technology and international outsourcing have removed many low-skill, well-paying jobs from the workforce. Wages for work in health care services, laundry and social assistance - jobs dominated by women - have remained relatively stagnant for years. Despite this, the cost of living has steadily crept up.
Other households tout the high cost of childcare and the relatively small amount of maternity leave allowed in the United States as reasons why they haven't returned to the workforce after having children. The economic analysis resource The Upshot, powered by The New York Times, reports that many American companies give 12 weeks of maternity leave (largely unpaid), while most European countries give a year of paid leave and offer protections for part-time workers who want to return to the workforce. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, Germany and France now outrank the U.S. in prime-age women's labor force participation.
The role women play as caregivers, not only for their own children or spouses, but for aging parents, also may be contributing to females dropping out of the labor force. A chronic-needs family member, such as a parent with dementia, can take away focus from employment. This can quickly result in a loss of a job.
Employers interested in keeping talented women in the workforce can change corporate policies to reflect changes in modern society, including higher divorce rates, college debt and the higher cost of living. Flexibility in schedules, modernized work environments that focus on mobile connectivity from home and lack of negative repercussions for needing family time can help keep talented female employees working.
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