Parents’ Labor Force Participation Declined in 2020

by Jessica Nelson

October 1, 2021

Oregon’s civilian labor force includes 638,000 parents of children under 18. Working parents account for 30% of the state labor force, a similar percentage to the nation (32%). Parents of children under six years of age make up 13% of the state workforce, and those with children ages six to 17 years account for another 17%.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused major interruptions in education and child care, leaving many parents without available care outside of the home, or with irregular and sporadic care arrangements. Conditions have taken many months to improve, and in the meantime, labor force participation among parents declined in 2020. The decline was concentrated among parents of children ages six to 17. For this group, participation among working mothers dropped 4 percentage points while working fathers’ participation dropped 3 percentage points. Among parents of children under the age of six, working fathers’ participation dropped nearly 2 percentage points, while working mothers’ participation dropped by just half a percentage point. Labor force participation among workers without children under the age of 18 didn’t change much in 2020.

Oregon parents have average labor force participation rates compared with parents across the nation. Nationally, 80.7% of parents with children under 18 were in the labor force in 2020, compared with 79.7% in Oregon. Among men, 88.7% of Oregon dads are in the labor force, slightly lower than the national labor force participation rate of 92.3%. The participation rate of Oregon women with children under 18 is 71.7%, essentially the same as the nation’s 71.2%.

The Vast Majority of Oregon Parents Work

Parents are more likely to be working than people without children under 18. The labor force participation rate for the Oregon population with no children under 18 is 56.0%, compared with 79.7% of parents with children under 18. This likely reflects an aging population and an increasing number of retired people. Participation for teens and young adults has also been lower in recent years than in decades past.
Labor force participation of parents differs by sex and the age of children. For parents of children under six years of age, there’s a big difference in the labor force experiences of men versus women. Of the men in this group, 90.6% are in the labor force, compared with 67.1% of Oregon mothers of children under age six. Oregon fathers in this group are slightly less likely to be in the labor force than the national average, and Oregon mothers of children under age six are slightly more likely to be working than the national average.

The gap in labor force participation between men and women is reduced somewhat for parents of children ages six to 17. For men with children ages six to 17, the participation rate was 87.2% in 2020, and 75.4% of Oregon women with children in that age range were in the labor force. The participation rate of men with children ages six to 17 was more than 4 percentage points lower than the national rate in 2020 (91.4%).

The pandemic seems to have been harder on Oregon’s working parents than the average across the country. That’s probably due to the early onset and long tenure of public-health restrictions in Oregon, where most schools remained closed to in-person learning until spring 2021. Oregon men with children six to 17 saw a much larger drop in participation during the pandemic than the national average, dropping 3 percentage points compared with a drop of half a percentage point nationally. Oregon women’s participation rate matched the national rate in 2020, but came into the pandemic a couple of percentage points higher than the national rate for women with children ages six to 17.

For people without children under 18, labor force participation is lower for both men and women. Oregon men in this group had a participation rate of 60.5%, essentially the same as the nation’s 60.4%. Oregon women’s rate was also very similar to the national rate for people without children under 18, at 51.7% and 51.0%, respectively.

The Marriage Effect

Labor force participation varies depending on several factors. In addition to the age of the kids waiting for dinner at home and a worker’s sex, there’s the effect of marital status. Of Oregon’s 638,000 working parents, 517,000 – the vast majority – are married with a spouse present. Another 121,000 have another marital status, which includes those never married, married with spouse absent, divorced, separated or widowed. A change recently occurred with this dataset; as of 2019 data, the estimate of married population and labor force includes people in same-sex marriages.

Overall, marital status didn’t have much impact on the likelihood of being in the labor force, with 79.9% of married parents in the labor force in 2020, compared with 78.6% of parents with another marital status. However, parents who were not married saw a larger drop in participation in 2020, shaving 4 percentage points off their participation in contrast with the drop of less than 2 percentage points among married parents.

Married parents show a wider variation in labor force participation between sexes. Married mothers are less likely to work, with a participation rate of 70.0%, while almost all married fathers of children under the age of 18 are in the labor force, with a participation rate of 89.7%.

Parents with any other marital status have very similar labor force participation between sexes. Oregon mothers in this group had a labor force participation rate of 77.1% in 2020, compared with a participation rate of 81.9% among fathers.
Women Are More Likely to Work Part Time

Regardless of parental status, women are more likely than men to work part time. Across all employed Oregonians in 2020, 13% of men worked part time and 29% of women worked part time, meaning fewer than 35 hours a week at all jobs. About 403,000 Oregon workers work part time – that’s 138,000 Oregon men and 265,000 Oregon women. About one-quarter of Oregon’s part-time workers are parents of children under age 18.
The share of women working part time didn’t vary much by age or presence of children, at least in these broad groupings. It averaged 29%, with the largest share among employed females with children under the age of six at 31%. The age of children didn’t change men’s participation overall, with 4% of men with kids in both age groups working part time.

Once again, for people without children under the age of 18, the employment experiences of the sexes are more similar. In this group, 17% of men and 29% of women work part time.

Conclusion

Working parents make up almost one-third of the Oregon workforce. Parents’ participation in the labor force varies depending on several factors, including the age of children, a worker’s sex, and marital status. Parents have high labor force participation rates, with the vast majority in the labor force and employed. Labor force participation among parents declined in 2020 with the pandemic, but resumption of more normal school schedules and child care availability will likely remedy that in 2021 and 2022.


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