As the economy struggles to get back on track, the labor participation rate remains feeble for almost everyone. Still, the losses affecting this group of women — who normally would be in the prime of their careers — stand out from the crowd and highlight the challenges facing middle-aged workers who, for whatever reason, find themselves out of a job.
The New York Times reports that “Since the start of the recession, the number of working women 45 to 54 has dropped more than 3.5 percent. There are now about one million fewer women of that age in the labor force than at their peak at the end of 2009. For younger women the rate of decline was about 2 percent — and many of those in their 20s dropped out to return to school or left the work force temporarily to focus on caring for young children.
“Men, too, have been pushed out of the labor market as jobs in the construction and manufacturing industries have been slow to return. But the rate of decline among adult men has largely tracked the curves of the economy and has been spread more evenly across ages. Mr. Shepherdson, who highlighted the drop in working women in a recent report for his firm, Pantheon Macroeconomics, said that even in a slow-growing economy “women’s participation should not have fallen at all, especially among the women in their prime earning years.”
“The fact that more elderly people are living longer may be behind many middle-aged women’s decision to stop working. Most employers do not offer flexible schedules for workers caring for elderly family members. And increasingly, women in their 40s and 50s are sandwiched between caring for aging parents and their own dependent children, including young adults still living at home.
“A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2013 reported that 27 percent of the women surveyed had quit their job to care for a child or family member. Sarita Gupta, co-director of Caring Across Generations, an advocacy group for home care workers and patients, said the difficulties can stack up. “Women are falling out of the work force to be primary caregivers to aging parents,” she said, “but as women go out of the work force it means they sacrifice their own financial security.”
“AARP’s Public Policy Institute estimates that women 50 and over who leave the work force permanently to care for a parent lose nearly $325,000 in wages and benefits.“It saves a lot of money but there’s a huge personal sacrifice,” said Jeannie Brown, 49, of Belgrade, Mont., who left her job as an accounting clerk for county government in 2009 to care for her disabled granddaughter and her mother, who had a stroke.The toll that caregiving takes is more than financial. Researchers say depression and anxiety are common among women who care for an older relative.The decline in public employment also appears to have played a major role in the exodus of middle-aged working women. Between September 2008 and April of this year, 640,000 state and local government workers lost their jobs, according to Labor Department data. Almost half were in education, an industry where a typical employee is a woman in her 40s.In Birmingham, Ala., for example, most of the nearly 300 teachers laid off in recent years were women who had been with the district 15 to 20 years, according to the local teachers union. In Trenton, many of the roughly 200 school district workers laid off since 2009, union officials said, were female support staff members who lost their jobs when cafeterias, paraprofessional services and school security teams were privatized.In Chicago, Katherine White was laid off in 2011 from her job teaching writing and history to fifth and sixth graders. Initially, her life was a whirl of activity as she fine-tuned her résumé and applied for numerous full-time teaching positions.“I tell you, I really thought I had the job in a lot of cases, and it didn’t happen,” Ms. White, 56, said.