Women leaving workforce in larger numbers than men during pandemic

From job loss to childcare issues, the pandemic has taken a toll on women in the workforce.

More than 2.3 million women over the age of 20 across the country have dropped out or been forced out of work since February 2020 compared to 1.8 million men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

As a result, women's labor force participation is now the lowest it's been since 1988. Vice President Kamala Harris recently called women leaving the workforce a "national emergency." Harris said layoffs, small business closures, and child care issues are contributing factors as students stay home for distance learning.

Laura Ruelas of Newark shared her story about pandemic-related layoffs. She recalls the moment in October when her boss called  her in.

"He said 'Hey, I need to talk to you.' and he had a look on his face," Ruelas said. "I said, ‘Don't tell me you're going to let me go.’ He said, 'I'm so sorry, you're amazing, but we have to cut back.’"

Ruelas pivoted from her role as a business operations manager and diversity leader at Cisco Systems to a full time stay-at-home mom. She’s grateful a severance package allowed her to hold off on finding another job.

She’s focused her efforts on helping her two youngest children with distance learning. She said she has seen an improvement in her children’s schoolwork and grades, but often thinks about going back to work.

"I have one foot in the pot of teaching and one foot ready to go back and we don't want to see a regression of women not returning," she said.

Greer Cowan with the Bay Area Council Economic Institute says it will take a concerted effort by companies to bring women back to work.

"The concern is that this trend could have a lasting impact on the gender equity on workplace as a whole if these women who dropped out of the labor force over the past year struggle to return to the workforce in the wake of the pandemic," Cowan said.

Ruelas believes businesses can find a way to make it work.

"With remote work, tele-health, tele-finance, there's no reason corporations can't change and make room for us and accommodate us," she said.

Despite being forced to leave her career, her family has found the silver lining.

"I have this time with my children that I would have never had," Ruelas said. "I've been working since I was 14, so to be 42 and finally have a break, a sabbatical if you will, has been such a blessing for us."