North Carolina Women’s Response to Pandemic Employment Challenges – Do It Yourself

Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Jeff DeBellis

In previous LEAD Feed posts, we examined changes in employment between men and women over the course of the pandemic. Data revealed that the number of employed women grew faster than that of men and without significantly cutting their amount of time worked.  Today, we look at one reason why women’s employment rebounded from the depths of the Covid Recession so quickly – self-employment.

Employment is not exclusive to those who work a wage or salary position for someone else. Those who are working for themselves are also considered “employed” – at least by the US Census Bureau’s and Bureau of Labor Statistics’ definition in their Current Population Survey (CPS). This distinction is important to understanding what happened with women’s employment over the past two years. According to the CPS, the number of self-employed women in North Carolina, increased 44% between December 2019 and December 2021 – growing from roughly 106,000 to 153,000. Meanwhile, self-employed men, who generally outnumber self-employed women, declined 20% over the same period. 

How significant was women’s self-employment to their overall employment growth? Enough to change the narrative about women’s employment recovery through the pandemic. When discounting the self-employed and looking at just those working in wage or salary jobs, the rate of growth of “employed” women trailed that of men.

What is not evident from the data is why.  Why did self-employment rise so significantly for North Carolina women and drop for men? Was it due to necessity? Were women unable to work at an employer business for a variety of reasons – laid off, business was shutdown, had to take care of children/family, illness or fear of catching Covid-19? Was it due to opportunity? Did the pandemic offer women a new opportunity to work for themselves that didn’t exist before – new Gig-work opportunities (e.g. GrubHub), contract or consulting work that could now be done remotely, increased demand (personal protective equipment, homemade crafts, other goods/services), more time available to plan and start a business, change in life/work priorities, increased online shopping? Perhaps both are true.

Whatever the reason for the increase in North Carolina women’s self-employment, the more important question is, will it last?