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Young Women Are Dropping Out of School and Work. Is Caregiving the Culprit?

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At the same time, the number of women who have dropped out of some form of education or plan to is on the rise. During the pandemic, more women than men consistently reported that they had canceled plans to take postsecondary classes or planned to take fewer classes, according to a series of surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau since last April.

A recent report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, using the Current Population Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has smaller sample sizes but produces faster snapshots of data, found that the rates of disconnected young people jumped sharply from 2019 to 2020 among Black, Latina and Native American women.

Though the rates during that period jumped for young men, too, it is noteworthy that before the pandemic the rate of disconnection among young women was dropping faster than for men. In 2015, it was 16 percent for young women compared with 14.8 percent of men. By 2019, women had somewhat closed that gap — 13.5 percent of women were disconnected compared with 12.9 percent of men. Then in 2020, the rate for both men and women shot up to 17 percent.

The number of disconnected youth over all had been steadily declining, to 4.3 million people in 2018 from a peak of 6 million in 2008, according to Measure of America, a project by the Social Science Research Council, a nonprofit that published its latest report on disconnection last summer.

Researchers at Measure of America predicted that the pandemic could reverse much of that progress and even push up the number of disconnected youth to a record high of nine million people — or a quarter of America’s youth.

“We rely on carefully collected data that takes researchers 18 months or more to gather, verify and format,” the report stated. But “we are painfully aware that as we write, the Covid-19 pandemic is eating away at these gains. The pandemic will change the rates of youth disconnection drastically, likely wiping out a decade’s progress.”

Though it is still early for definitive data, experts suggest that the same care crisis that forced adult women out of the work force may have spilled over to younger women, with many looking after their siblings or relatives, for example, so that their parents can work.

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