Economy Labor Rights

The Pandemic & Its Detriment to the Female Workforce

“Women have never experienced an unemployment rate in the double digits since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting data by gender in 1948 – until now.” Women’s unemployment was almost 3 points higher than men’s in April, and has not experienced the same amount of recovery as men’s in subsequent months. This is due to a confluence of factors, one being the disproportionate amount of women, particularly women of color, in industries that were hit hardest by the pandemic. A National Women’s Law Center analysis showed that prior to the pandemic, women held 77% of jobs in the education and health industries and have accounted for 83% of jobs lost in these industries. A similar pattern has been observed in the retail industry as well.

In addition to this phenomenon, women are bearing the majority of childcare and family-related labor, which creates another barrier to reentering or staying in the workforce. Specifically, the Census Bureau reported that women are three times more likely to not be working due to COVID-19 related childcare needs. This may be due to cultural and social norms that relegate women to the default caregiver role, which is only worsening with many schools not reopening. As the pandemic has drastically changed both home and work life, women have been forced to carry a disproportionate share of the burden– they are not only more likely to lose a job, but also more likely to be responsible for childcare.

This issue has long term implications and manifests in numerous forms, depending on family situation, economic class, geographic location, and other factors. Betsey Stevenson, an economics professor at University of Michigan, warns against the lasting effects of this current dilemma, and states, “We could have an entire generation of women who are hurt…They may spend a significant amount of time out of the work force, or their careers could just peter out in terms of promotions”. The longer women are out of the workforce, the harder it is for them to return. These hardships and disparities come at a time when women were finally comprising more than half of the labor force, despite simultaneously bearing the majority of domestic work. This double burden has reared its ugly head during the pandemic and will ultimately take many years, and strong public policy, to mend.

Sources: Washington Post 5/9/20, CNBC 7/8/20, Marketplace 8/21/20, New York Times 6/3/20

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