Mom 2.0: Recession Drives Women Back To Work

NYTimes reports: The Great Recession is pushing many highly educated women who had left work to stay at home with their children to dive back into the labor pool, according to several nationally recognized experts on women in the workplace.

According to some economists, these women, once part of a privileged minority that could afford not to work, are now collateral damage of the recession — not forced out of work, but back into it. “What’s happened is 78 percent of the people who lost their jobs in the recession are men,” said Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. “That has brought home to many families that having one income places you in a very vulnerable position. Some women who expected to take a long time out of the work force suddenly felt they needed to re-enter, in some cases much more quickly than they expected.” The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found preliminary evidence of affluent women returning to the labor force. When it comes to women with a college education who are 25 to 44 years old and living with a spouse, the proportion of those working or looking for work increased to 78.4 percent in the first half of 2009, from 76 percent in the first half of 2007. Economists say this is surprising because the percentage of people in the work force usually drops as unemployed workers grow discouraged and stop looking for work in a recession. Over the same period, the proportion of men of the same age and circumstance inched down, falling from 97.4 percent to 97.1 percent. It is too early to tell whether those numbers reflect an increase above and beyond the long-term growth of women’s participation in the work force. Examining women’s work force participation — and especially women with children — has been one of the battlefields of economics. In the last several years, some researchers have suggested that many affluent working mothers chose to leave the work force during the boom times of the 90’s and early this decade, saying there was a trend of women opting out of careers once they had children. The suggestion — highlighted in an Oct. 26, 2003 New York Times Magazine cover article — prompted a huge controversy. Critics responded that most women had no choice but to work and that only a small affluent minority could chose not to. They said many working mothers left the labor force not because they were opting to, but because they were forced to by workplaces that made it too difficult to balance family and work. Separately, some economists argued that the decrease in women working was not caused by opting out, but by the 2001 recession that was followed by years of weak job growth.