After solid job growth in July, the economy has slowed, adding just 235,000 positions in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is a lot smaller than the 720,000 new hires economists had predicted as a surge in Covid-19 cases disrupts economic recovery.
Of the 235,000 jobs added, only 11.9% went to women, marking a sharp decline in women's job growth from July, reports the National Women's Law Center. There has also been a concerning drop in the number of women working or actively seeking employment. Women's labor force participation rate decreased to 57.4% from 57.5% in July — before the pandemic, it had not dropped this low since 1988.
"This was not a good month for jobs, especially right after July, when we saw over a million jobs added," Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the NWLC, tells CNBC Make It. "But the pandemic has made the market really volatile, so we should expect the economy to change month to month."
Given the pandemic's economic toll on women, the NWLC estimates that women would need about nine years of August's job gains to return to pre-pandemic employment levels.
The highly contagious delta variant has made it even more difficult for working mothers to rejoin the labor force, Tucker explains, as schools shut down and there continues to be a lack of child care.
Another factor that could exacerbate unemployment for women is the expiration of federal unemployment benefits, which are set to expire for about 7.5 million people on Sept. 6, Tucker adds. Once those benefits end, "we can expect to see people's spending significantly drop," Tucker says. "Reduced spending on local businesses means those businesses will have less money to hire more workers, including women … it's a bad cycle that could perpetuate unemployment in September."
Women lost jobs across several major sectors in August, including leisure and hospitality; retail; and the education and health services sector, according to NWLC's analysis. "These are some of the biggest sectors for women's jobs," Tucker says. "Unfortunately, demand for these services could go down as Covid cases rise because people are going to dine and shop less, for example, if they're worried about getting sick."
Women did, however, account for 35.1% of the job gains in the professional and business services sector, which includes professions like accounting, human resources and data research.
In August, the overall unemployment rate for women ages 20 and over decreased to 4.8% from 5% in July. By comparison, the overall unemployment rate for adult men ages 20 and over fell to 5.1% in August from 5.4% in July. Black women faced an unemployment rate of 7.9% in August, up from 7.6% in July. Latinas fared slightly better, facing an unemployment rate of 6% in August, down from 6.7% in July.
But, as Tucker notes, job losses for women can have far-reaching consequences. "Women are breadwinners, a lot of families and businesses rely on those earnings," she says. "When women lose jobs, there's less money being spent in the economy, and fewer jobs are added … it's a vicious cycle we have to get out of."