Though they make up only half the U.S. workforce, women make up 55 percent of those currently unemployed due to COVID-19, effectively erasing the gains made in workplace equality since the recession of 2008.

The current unemployment crisis has been deemed a “she-cession” by C. Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The rate of women seeking unemployment is at 15.5 percent, the highest rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics starting reporting employment data by gender in 1948. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for men is at 13 percent.

In the recession of 2007-2009 male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction were heavily impacted, while the coronavirus crisis has dealt a massive blow to industries like hospitality and tourism, leisure, and healthcare, in which the majority of employees are female. Women of color have been particularly impacted by these layoffs, with unemployment rates for Hispanic women hovering at around 20%. There is concern that when the economy reopens, many women will be unable to find employment as many of the jobs they previously held will be gone for good.

“There’s not going to be 100 percent job replacement,” stated Mason. “Some will be gone forever. That will have a long-term impact on women workers.”

Women are also doing the majority of unpaid labor during the pandemic. They are providing childcare, doing household chores, and homeschooling, regardless of whether they are working or not. A recent survey by the New York Times found that 80 percent of women report doing the majority of homeschooling during the pandemic, and 70 percent reporting they are doing the majority of housework such as cooking and cleaning.

“Whether or not women are able to remain in the workforce and retain their jobs is going to be directly tied to the kind of support we give them,” said C. Nicole Mason. “If the schools don’t come back and we open the economy and women are expected to go back to work but there’s no childcare, then obviously the women who can are going to make some hard choices about whether they can go back to work.”

Sources: The Boston Globe 5/19/20; Ms. Magazine 5/15/20; The New York Times 5/8/20

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