Could a post-Roe world push even more women out of the workforce?

As supporters of abortion rights raised concerns about women’s economic power in light of the Supreme Court’s potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, women accounted for 65% of the 428,000 new jobs added to the economy in April, according to Friday’s jobs report.

A question mark in the April jobs report is what to make of the U.S. workforce shrinking for the first time in seven months. Is the lower labor-force participation rate — the percentage of people ages 16 and up who have a job or are looking for work — a blip? Or is it something else?

An even bigger question is what happens to that labor-force participation rate for women if the high court overturns Roe, the 1973 ruling recognizing the constitutional right to abortion. How many woman will stay in the workforce if abortion access is curtailed in their state, and what would that mean for their earnings potential?

A leaked draft of the highly anticipated ruling expected in June or July shows the high court’s conservative wing is ready to overturn Roe and hand decisions about abortion access back to state legislators and voters. The Supreme Court confirmed that the draft document was authentic, but said it didn’t represent a final decision.

Abortion-rights advocates say Roe’s overruling would have “devastating” financial consequences for many women, particularly low-income women and women of color. Anti-abortion advocates question that there would be a financial toll, not to mention some of the research indicating such a toll.

As of April, 62.2% of the country’s population ages 16 and up that was able to have a job was either working or looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 62.4% in March, and more than a full percentage point off pre-pandemic levels.

In an economy that’s still 1.2 million jobs short of where it was pre-pandemic, the participation rates for men and women haven’t fully returned for either group.
Men’s participation rate was 69% in February 2020 and 68% in the latest labor figures. Women’s participation rate was 56.7% in April, 1.2 percentage points off the 57.9% rate in February 2020.

Caregiving duties — especially in the pandemic’s earlier stages — have “weighed substantially” on labor-force participation, particularly for women, according to Federal Reserve research.

Woman accounted for 278,000 of April’s new jobs, and they had a 3.5% unemployment rate overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Taking the long view, labor-force participation rates for women were on the rise for decades, but peaked in the late 1990s and early-to-mid-2000s around the 60% mark before edging down.

In the pile of amicus briefs in the underlying Supreme Court case challenging Mississippi’s abortion ban after 15 weeks, economists supporting Roe’s upholding wrote that “abortion legalization had large effects on women’s education, labor force participation, occupations, and earnings. These…

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