The news that over 850,000 women had left the workforce in September, was alarming. This trend, referred to as the ‘shecession’ has continued through the winter and into the spring. In the month of December alone, the United States economy lost a net of 140,000 jobs. Women accounted for the 156,000 jobs lost that month, while men gained 16,000 jobs (Forbes). This statistic is a clear indicator that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women. When looking closer at the data, it is evident that women of color and low-income women have been most affected and will have a harder time regaining employment lost during this period.

Female dominated industries, such as retail and hospitality, have been highly impacted  by the pandemic because the nature of this work makes it difficult or impossible to work remotely. Additionally, many women have had to leave the workforce, in order to fulfill their responsibilities at home as mothers or caretakers. This pandemic has put huge emotional burden on women because of the extra responsibilities many have been forced to take on.

Female clients at Project Place have voiced their own hardships with making these tough decisions, especially when it comes to their children’s education and welfare and going back to work. These are real issues many mothers are dealing with, trying to balance being the best parent possible while also continuing to work and provide an income for their family. For too many, continuing to work has simply not been an option. Low-income and homeless single mothers have been especially affected by the pandemic’s employment crisis. With schools going remote and childcare centers closing, mothers have struggled to find childcare options during the time in which they would normally be working. Grandparents, who often helped with childcare, have been discouraged from doing so in a pandemic where they are most at-risk of mortality. Many mothers are in a no-win situation where they cannot go to work because they would have to leave their children alone, but without work they have no income and struggle to pay rent and other bills. For mothers trying to regain custody of their children, the pandemic has created an extremely difficult situation, as they must prove they can simultaneously caretake and provide for their children. This population of women also experience higher rates of trauma and the isolation of the pandemic has been particularly damaging for their mental health.

What will be the long-term impacts on gender equality? And what can be done to address this pressing issue?

Many are worried about the setbacks this pandemic will have on the long-term progress of gender equity. Even before the pandemic, more women than men lived in poverty. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women were 35% more likely to live in poverty than men in the U.S., with nearly 1 in 9 women in poverty in 2019. Additionally, 60% of poor children in the U.S. were living in families headed by single-mothers (National Women‘s Law Center). These disparities have persisted and now widened due to the gender wage gap, gender divisions in types of labor, lack of social safety nets, absence of affordable childcare, family caretaking responsibilities, and domestic violence (The Women’s Legal Defense & Education Fund). Addressing these related challenges simultaneously is essential.

In order to improve gender equity and the welfare of children, finding solutions to child care is one of the most urgent needs. A key finding of a recent report from the Center for American Progress notes that, “Without both immediate and long-term action to shore up the child care infrastructure and establish more progressive work-family policies, the United States cannot achieve continued economic growth nor protect and advance gender equity.”

Sources & Resources for Further Reading:

Forbes – “American Women Lost More Than 5 Million Jobs in 2020”

Center for American Progress – “How COVID-19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backward”

The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund – “Women and Poverty in America”

National Women’s Law Center – “Poverty Snapshot”

McKinsey & Company – “Seven Charts That Show COVID-19’s Impact on Women’s Employment”

WBUR – ‘Schecession’: The Pandemic’s Impact on Women in the Workplace”

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