Women in U.S. Work Force Climbs to Highest Since 2002

(Bloomberg) --

The proportion of prime-age women in the U.S. workforce jumped in August to its highest level in more than 17 years, reversing a surprising decline since the start of the year.

Labor force participation for women 25 to 54 years old advanced to 76.3%, up a full percentage point from July and the highest since February 2002, the Labor Department’s employment report showed Friday. Participation had been declining since reaching 76% in January despite the lowest overall unemployment rate in almost half a century.

“In some ways it was more perplexing that it had fallen earlier in the year in a very strong labor market,” said Julia Coronado, president and founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives LLC. “It’s more of a catch-up to where we should have been.”

Women in U.S. Work Force Climbs to Highest Since 2002

Coronado said the jump might have been modestly boosted by hiring for the U.S. census but not enough to substantially explain the rise. A Labor Department report earlier this week projected prime-age women labor participation at 76.1% in 2028.

Participation among prime-aged men was little changed, rising 0.1 percentage point to 89% in August.

The Labor Department’s survey of households also showed that the unemployment rate among blacks fell to a record-low of 5.5%, although participation among black men 20 years and older eased 0.1 percentage point to 68.3%.

Participation is the share of people working or actively seeking jobs divided by the civilian population aged 16 and over.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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