A report released by the Bell Policy Center last month showed a general downward trend in Colorado women’s workforce participation since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The report, titled “The Future of Work: Disruptions & Solutions for Colorado Women,” specifically examines trends in workforce participation among women in Colorado. It is the fourth annual report in a series, called “The Future of Work,” published by the Bell Policy Center, a progressive research and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting economic mobility for people across Colorado.

“This final brief takes the COVID-19 disruption as a jumping-off point to analyze the unique barriers that limit women’s workforce participation and provides a set of policy recommendations so Colorado can become the best place for women to work in the nation,” reads the report’s introduction.

The report found a discrepancy in workforce participation between men and women in Colorado. Since 2015, men’s rates have held steady, with about 75% of men participating. Around 2016, women’s workforce participation started to rise as a whole, peaking at less than 65% in 2019. However, in 2020, these numbers dropped – with women’s participation falling at a higher rate than men’s.

The Bell Policy Center attributes this gendered gap to multiple issues. First, it says, women are disproportionately represented in the food service and retail industries, among others – industries which, according to a report by the Colorado Center for Law and Policy, have seen some of the greatest pandemic-related job losses.

This follows a recent trend which has come to be known as “The Great Resignation”: facing jobs with low wages and little opportunity for career advancement, especially in food service and retail, many employees have decided to quit altogether. 

The Bell Policy Center also examines another issue that stalls workforce participation: women are often responsible for childcare. According to the report, Colorado’s professional childcare costs rank 8th in the nation. Often, the income that a woman might earn from going to work does not match up to what she would pay for childcare.

The report did find that for women aged 16-19, workforce participation has been steadily rising since Sept 2020.

However, for all other age groups, the story was about the same: a small but noteworthy decline in employment since the start of the pandemic.

The report also found that among Colorado women, the decrease in Black women’s participation was the most severe. While White, Black, and Latina women appear to have had roughly equal participation rates at the start of 2020, Black women’s participation fell rapidly, to less than 50% last autumn. As of Aug 2021, those numbers are on the rise, but still have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Participation for White and Latina women has also fallen, albeit not as drastically.

Additionally, the report found that women’s union membership continued to decrease in 2020. Approximately 7% of Colorado women are members of a union – the lowest that rate has been since 2010.

According to the report, women in unions earn 22.6% more than their non-union counterparts.

To remedy these issues and raise women’s participation in the workforce, the Bell Policy Center put forth multiple recommendations. These included, among others: giving extra funding to state childcare assistance programs; funding for community colleges and minority-oriented institutions; as well as raising Colorado’s minimum wage.

View the full report here.