In January 2001, the month George W. Bush was inaugurated, 74.2% of women age 25 to 54 were employed. Last month only 69% of women age 25 to 54 were employed. This decline means that 3.4 million fewer women are working, during the most important years for career advancement, than if the employment to population ratios had remained stable over the past decade.
The past two recessions have caused substantial declines in the employment of women, reversing more than 40 years of increasing labor force participation and employment of women. The following charts, based on data from the Current Population Survey, show that the employment of women under age 55 declined (relative to population) during the first 3.5 years of both the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations.
The decline in employment has been especially large for women age 20 to 24. In early 2001 more than 69% of women age 20 to 24 were employed. By the middle of 2012 only 59% of women in this age group were employed.
Only women age 55 and above experienced a significant increase in employment during the first 3.5 years of the G.W. Bush Administration. However, over the past 3.5 years the employment of women age 55 and above has just kept pace with population growth.
The employment of women has declined relative to population over the last decade. The past two recessions have reversed some of the gains in women’s employment between 1960 and 2000. It is especially troubling that women’s employment has declined relative to population even during the past two years of a relatively weak economic recovery.
Women’s employment has declined by more than 5% in the 25 to 54 age group since 2001. Workers in this age group are accumulating valuable experience and human capital that results in future earnings growth. Workers with more gaps in their employment histories from age 25 to 54 are likely to experience slower earnings growth over their careers. The consequence of fewer employment opportunities over the past decade for these women will be lower earnings for years to come.