In the interest of accuracy, we should begin reporting on the employment situation in America not by citing the unemployment rate (current at 8.1%) - a meaningless number given what's left out of that figure - but rather the far more telling number that reveals the percentage of Americans working. And that number, as it relates to women, has fallen to catastrophic levels over the last two months.
In February, according to BLS's seasonally adjusted data, 52,833,000 American women were not in the labor force. In March that climbed to 53,090,000-a one-month increase of 257,000. In April, it climbed again to the historical high of 53,321,000-a one-month increase of 231,000 from March and a two-month increase of 488,000 from February.
In February, there was an historical high of 72,706,000 women in the labor force. But in March, that dropped to 72,529,000-a decline of 177,000. And in April, it dropped to 72,382,000-a decline of another 147,000.
Thus, in March and April, according to the BLS data, a total of 324,000 American women dropped out of the civilian labor force.
The number of women added to those not in the labor force in March and April (488,000) exceeds the number of women who dropped out of the labor force during those two months (324,000) because women who newly turned 16, or left the military, or were released from prison or another institution during those two months and then did not seek a job were added to the ranks of those not in the labor force.
BLS says that for a one-month change in the number of women in the labor force to be statistically significant it has to be greater than about 260,000. For a three-month change to be statistically significant it has to be greater than 400,000. Thus, the two-month increase of 488,000 in the number of women not in the labor force is a statistically significant trend, but the two-month increase of 324,000 women who dropped out of the labor force is not. However, if at least 76,000 additional women drop out of the labor force in May the trend will become statistically significant.
The BLS doesn't try to hide these other statistics. They are right there, in the same report that contains the far more misleading unemployment rate.The focus of the business press has always been on the unemployment rate, however, because it's easier to grasp how many people supposedly aren't working, than are. The reason for that is the total percentage of people employed has more qualifiers than the straight unemployment rate:
The civilian labor force consists of all people in the United States 16 years or older who are not in the military, a prison, or another institution such as a nursing home or mental hospital and who either have a job or are unemployed but have actively sought work in the previous four weeks and are currently available to work.
The civilian labor force is a subset of what BLS calls the civilian noninstitutional population, which includes all people in the country 16 or older who are not in the military, a prison, or another institution such as a nursing home or mental hospital.
What makes the percentage of people working a more accurate measurement is its fluctuation from month to month. The ups and downs are far more indicative of the true state of the availability of jobs in America, which makes this figure regarding the number of women dropping out of the labor force worrisome. Many women give the household a second income that usually means the difference between staying afloat and sinking into debt, foreclosure, and poverty. Even if it's only part-time work, that little extra every month affects quality of life and the comfort level of families across the country.
Barack Obama's America is not a happy, secure place right now. Millions of Middle Class families are on the edge, in danger of falling into poverty because a second income for the female in the house has been lost, or simply isn't available due to the lack of jobs. How Mitt Romney addresses this problem may mean the difference between victory and defeat in November.