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  • Katica Roy

What Happens If Women Don’t Return To Work?

Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)

If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.

The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.

  • Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.

  • Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.

Be Brave™

This Is Why Women Need To Return To The Workforce


What’s the worst case scenario if women don’t return to work at the same rate as before the pandemic?


Suboptimal economic conditions for all. That’s what will characterize our nation if women don’t return to the workforce. To be certain, it’s not only about women returning to their pre-pandemic labor force participation levels. It’s also about women returning and increasing their labor force participation to levels of parity.

As readers of this newsletter know, the pandemic pushed back women’s labor force participation rate to 1988 levels.

We lost 33 years of progress toward parity in a span of about 11 months. The most recent jobs report tacks women’s labor force participation rate at a pallid 57.1%.

This setback might disappoint us, but it should not discourage us. It should make us all the more resolute in achieving gender parity in the labor market. Because when we do, we will expand the economic pie for everyone by $789 billion. Unleashing the full potential of women unlocks billions of dollars of economic gains.

In fact, over the past five decades, women have already unlocked $2 trillion for the US economy by increasing their participation in the paid labor force.

Key point: Women not returning to the workforce is an economic issue.

Pre-pandemic, women’s (paid) labor contributed $7.6 trillion to national GDP each year. If every woman took a day off of (paid) work, GDP would drop by nearly $21 billion.

I’m distinguishing between paid and unpaid labor because we don’t include the latter in GDP calculations. If we did count women’s unpaid labor as part of GDP, it would amount to approximately the entire GDP of New York state. (And if women in the US were compensated at minimum wage for their unpaid work, they would have been paid $1.5 trillion in 2019. Keep in mind, those are pre-COVID numbers.)

The ripple effects of women's decreased labor force participation would perhaps hit families the hardest.

Today 71% of families in the US depend on moms for their financial well-being. For these families, moms’ wages pay for things like housing, healthcare, education, and food—i.e. the essentials. Moreover, the US is home to 16 million breadwinner moms who support 28 million children. For these 16 million breadwinner moms, there is no backup or secondary income. They’re it.

These numbers trouble me because the pandemic hit mothers especially hard. Even if only 1% of mothers permanently left the workforce post-pandemic, US families would miss out on $8.7 billion in wages annually.

And, if the sunken labor force participation rate among mothers persists indefinitely, the wages of US families would shrink by $64.5 billion per year.

These are wages that should be invested in the health, wellbeing, and prosperity of families across the nation.

The sunny side to this gloomy forecast is that we can prevent a “worst case scenario” from occurring. We have the tools and frameworks to build back an economy with equity at the core—one where all genders have equitable access to the economy and labor market so that they can step into a life the size of their dreams.


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© 2021 Katica Roy™, Inc.


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