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Policy Report COVID-19

Latinas Exiting the Workforce: How the Pandemic Revealed Historic Disadvantages and Heightened Economic Hardship

This report quantifies the 2020 loss in labor for Latinas relative to other groups and highlights pre-existing disparities exacerbated by COVID-19.




As baby boomers retire in record numbers, Latinas are poised to transform the U.S. labor force and catalyze economic growth. However, the pandemic has made clear that without considerable changes in job protection and safety-net programs, the economic potential of Latinas will be limited. The pandemic has made evident how Latinas struggle to look for work, find jobs, and remain employed because of sustained structural disadvantages. Hyper-segregation in low-paying jobs vulnerable to pandemic-induced shutdowns, like leisure and hospitality, paired with a lack of access to education and training opportunities that would allow them to move away from low-wage labor, caused disproportionate job losses for Latinas. On top of that, disproportionate family-care obligations combined with the lack of support for childcare and the closure of schools and daycare centers have forced Latinas to stop looking for work altogether and will prevent them from re-entering the labor force in the future, unless conditions significantly change.

In this report, we analyze the current state of Latinas in the U.S. workforce, the impact of the pandemic on their employment opportunities, and the need for system-wide changes to unleash their potential. The report provides evidence that returning to what we previously considered to be “normal” will not only leave millions of Latinas without access to real economic opportunity and social mobility but would harm the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. labor force and economy. It also provides evidence that the Biden administration’s proposed American Families Plan — which would remove many of the structural barriers that impede Latinas from rejoining the labor market by providing childcare support, mandatory family and parental leave, and other family-based measures — is necessary for the long-term health of the economy.

Key Findings:

  1. Before the pandemic, the number of Latinas in the U.S. labor force was projected to grow by 25.8%, close to 9 times the projected growth of white women in the labor force (3.1%) from 2019-2029. This means that Latinas are fundamental to a healthy and productive national workforce that invigorates the U.S. economy and maintains national competitiveness. However, disproportionate effects of the pandemic could slow previously projected increases in the labor force participation of Latinas, ultimately impacting the health and productivity of the workforce and economy at large.
  2. In a span of two months, from March to May 2020, 43.5%, or close to 700,000 Latinas in leisure and hospitality lost their jobs across the country.
  3. In one year, from March 2020 to March 2021, the number of Latinas in the workforce dropped by 2.74%, the biggest drop in labor force size of any demographic group. Their exit from the labor force will complicate economic recovery as many crucial sectors continue to face labor shortages, potentially leaving businesses with insufficient workers to stay afloat.
  4. Before the pandemic, Latinas spent over twice as much time as Latino men on household activities and close to three times as much on caring for household members, but almost half as much on work or work-related activities every day. As pandemic-induced shutdowns continued and household and caregiving responsibilities increased, Latinas involuntarily left the market to care for their homes.
  5. With many schools still closed heading into Fall 2020, 337,000 Latinas dropped out of the labor force from August to September 2020. As a proportion of their August labor force size, Latinas experienced the highest decrease in labor force size of all demographic groups, and almost three times that of their white counterparts.
  6. Since then, the number of Latinas in the U.S. labor force has fluctuated, showing employment inconsistency and instability. Despite rises and falls, the number of Latinas in the workforce is still lower than it was in August 2020 and much lower than before the start of the pandemic. In April 2021, 122,000 fewer Latinas were in the labor force than in August 2020, and 455,000 fewer Latinas were in the labor force than in March 2020.

Policy Recommendations:

  1. Increase the minimum wage.
  2. Strengthen the social safety net by increasing childcare support, introducing mandatory paid family leave, and expanding the child tax credit.
  3. Strengthen training and education programs to upskill and re-skill Latinas in the labor market so they can access higher-wage employment without imminent threats due to automation of low-wage work.