Nearly one in three jobs held by women are officially considered essential work, meaning women are the majority of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a new report by The New York Times, nearly 52 percent of all essential workers are women. This includes 77 percent of the health care worker, 78 percent of social workers, and more than 66 percent of grocery and fast-food employees. In contrast, just 28% of all male workers have been deemed essential.
A majority of these jobs are underpaid and undervalued. As The Times notes, the U.S. healthcare industry “spreads far beyond hospitals” and encompasses at-home and on-demand workers who tend to the sick, old, and disabled.
“While women have steadily increased their share of high-end health care jobs like surgeons and other physicians, they have also been filling the unseen jobs proliferating on the lowest end of the wage scale, the workers who spend long and little-rewarded days bathing, feeding and medicating some of the most vulnerable people in the country,” wrote reporters Campbell Robertson and Robert Gebeloff. “Of the 5.8 million people working health care jobs that pay less than $30,000 a year, half are nonwhite and 83 percent are women.”
“Care work,” as University of Massachusettes sociologist Dr. Mignon Duffy characterizes it, “is part of the infrastructure of our whole society. It holds everything together… But now we’re being forced to identify who the essential workers are,” Dr. Duffy said. “And guess who they are?”
Yet, increased visibility does not necessarily translate into wage increases or basic protections. New CDC data shows nearly 75 percent of health care workers infected with coronavirus are women. While nurses and hospital workers have access to basic protective equipment, home healthcare workers and personal aides are struggling to receive basic workplace protections, let alone N95 masks.
Pam Ramsey, a home health aide who spoke with The Times, has gone years without health insurance. She goes to work with no protective gear, beyond what is available at the local dollar store. Despite providing necessary care, she does not have a formal letter identifying her as an essential worker.
“We’re still a part of health care and we’re not recognized at all,” she said. “People don’t look at us because we have no license, no certificate, no proof that we’re as good as they are.”