More people, especially women, wanted to work in May

  • In May, more Americans were actively looking for work, especially women of color.
  • That bodes well for a recovery, but many women of color are still unhired.
  • The following three charts show how labor force participation rates have changed over two years.

As the economic recovery progresses, people are poised to return to the workforce – and in May they did.

The labor force participation rate rose 0.1 percentage point to 62.3% in May, according to the latest data release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday. This means that around 330,000 more people were employed or actively looking for work than in April.

“Overall, we have a very tight job market,” Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, told Insider. “We see job openings reaching near record highs. This draws workers back into the labor market. In general, the existence of job opportunities encourages Americans to look for work.”

The following graphic shows how the employment rate has developed since the beginning of 2020:

Last month, one group jumped into the workforce: women. As the chart below shows, more women were employed and actively looking for work in May. The non-seasonally adjusted employment rate for women aged 20 and over rose by 0.3 percentage points to 58.2%.

This is a new and encouraging development for the economic recovery from the pandemic, which has often left women further behind than men. An analysis by the National Women’s Law Center found that women accounted for 46.4% of job gains in May. The rise in labor force participation has been particularly driven by women of color, with significant numbers of black and Hispanic or Hispanic women entering the labor market.

“It was a nice milestone to see black labor force participation at its highest level since before the pandemic,” Zhao said. But there is a “somewhat mixed picture”.

Despite these gains, inequalities persist: while more women were looking for work, they didn’t necessarily find it.

For white women over 20, the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 2.6% from 2.4%, This means that 107,000 more white women were considered unemployed. At the same time, the black female unemployment rate rose from 4.6% to 5.5%, meaning that 108,000 more black women were unemployed — even though 132,000 black women entered the labor market.

At the same time, the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell for both white and black males, even as their labor force participation rates rose.

So while more Black women were able and willing to work, many were not hired. And this despite the fact that the country has almost record-high job vacancies.

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