100 Years to Gain, 1 Month to Lose: The Precarity of Women’s Jobs Under the Pandemic

“Women have lost so much ground in the pandemic; it could take years for them to recover from the economic stress created by losing their jobs and critical family income. We have to make sure that millions of women and their families do not fall into even deeper poverty.  What we need is a major plan, much like a Marshall Plan, to aid mothers to quickly regain a solid economic footing and receive the necessary supports to help their families flourish.” – Christian F. Nunes, President of NOW  

It’s been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter-in-place began in the United States. Since this development, job losses and layoffs have continued to rise. Under the COVID-19 pandemic, 15% of workers have reported losing a job or being laid off as a result of the pandemic outbreak. Low-income individuals, unskilled workers, and women, predominately women of color, have been the hardest hit groups in terms of job losses. Additional barriers such as family care have made women, especially mothers, even more vulnerable to job losses during the pandemic.   

After the economy appeared to be recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, December of 2020 marked a huge wave of job losses and illustrated that the fallout from the pandemic is far from over. It was reported that 140,000 workers lost their jobs in December. All of the jobs lost were held by women. Not only were women suffering the brunt of this economic downturn, but men actually gained 16,000 jobs during this same month. This trend is not specific to the month of December. Women have been the hardest group hit with job losses since the start of the pandemic, with women making up 55% of net job losses, summing 5.4 million jobs lost in total.    

Part of what can account for these disparities in job losses is the varying ways different employment sectors have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Leisure and hospitality industries, for instance, have been particularly vulnerable to job losses during this time, with losses totaling around 498,000. In this field, women make up 56.6% of all employees, a disproportionate amount of loss in this sector. The government sector was also hit hard during this time, with 45,000 jobs being lost in the month of December alone. What is even more concerning, however, is that even though they make up only 57.5% of the government sector, women accounted for 91.1% of job losses. In markets where there were job gains, women still faired far worse than their male counterparts. For instance, the retail sector saw gains of 120,500 jobs in December, but even though they made up a majority in this sector, only 44.2% of these gains went to women.    

This data clearly demonstrates that even when women only make up a part of these respective job sectors, they are being disproportionately impacted by job losses. On the contrary, even when minimal job gains are made, women are not reaping the benefits.    

Another important consideration is the loss of part-time versus full-time occupations. CNN reports that part-time jobs were hit hard during the pandemic. Women are more likely to be employed in part-time positions giventhat they often have other responsibilities, such as childcare and other family needs. A lack of childcare accessibility and school closures during the pandemic have exacerbated these inequities, have made it more challenging for women to hold down their respective jobs, and made women more prone to being laid off.  

The job losses that took place in December 2020 are not isolated incidents. Rather, these historic job losses are emblematic of the larger issue that even though there have been great strides in closing the employment gap between men and women in recent years, women’s employment continues to be precarious. Women are more likely to face poverty than their male counterparts, with women having higher poverty rates than men in every age category. In addition, women still make less than their male counterparts, making only 81 cents on the dollar according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This disparity is even worse for women of color, making only half as much as men.   

These job losses are not taking place in a vacuum but are representative of a historic trend of women being pushed into low-income, part-time occupations. They still face discrimination, a lack of access to childcare, and other barriers that make them high-risk for job losses and layoffs. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the harsh economic realities that so many women face in the United States and illustrates why it is so crucial that lawmakers address such inequities as they rollout relief packages for the pandemic. Further, our law needs to reflect the reality that a woman’s economic precarity is not just a consequence of the pandemic, but representative of the systemic ways that women are made vulnerable to economic despair.   

Possible Solutions:    

  • Leading feminist activists are calling on the Biden Administration to institute a task force to create the “Marshall Plan for Moms.” Further, while this bill is being crafted, they are calling on Bident to first, provide short-term monthly payments to mothers on a need-basis for loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, expand paid family leave. And third, pass legislation that has long been needed to increase support and free childcare programs to ensure that women are not losing their jobs due to the inability to schedule and/or afford childcare, and further codify pay equity into law.   
  • Beyond the Marshall Plan for Moms, legislators should seek to close the income gap and expand educational opportunities and job training programs for women to ensure that they are able to expand into job markets with higher wages, more job security, and better benefits.    

How You Can Help:   

  • Call your legislators and representatives and encourage them to introduce the “Marshall Plan for Moms,” increased child support, and paid family leave.   
  • If able to, volunteer, donate, and support candidates that are seeking to improve the material conditions of women in this country, end the unequal economic outcomes for women, and provide support for women well after the pandemic has ended.   

Harmony Bulloch, President’s Office Intern

Sources:  

Cision: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/50-prominent-women-run-full-page-ad-in-the-new-york-times-calling-on-president-biden-to-implement-marshall-plan-for-moms-in-first-100-days-301214913.html  

CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/08/economy/women-job-losses-pandemic/index.html 

National Women’s Law Center: https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/December-Jobs-Day.pdf 

Pew Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/#:~:text=Fully%2015%25%20of%20adults%20report,they%20are%20currently%20not%20employed 

Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/233154/us-poverty-rate-by-gender/#:~:text=Poverty%20rate%20in%20the%20U.S.%20by%20age%20and%20gender%20in%202019&text=In%202019%2C%20the%20poverty%20rate,21.35%20percent%20for%20female%20Americans 

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