In mid-January, before the pandemic drove record numbers of people to the unemployment lines, women eclipsed men as the majority of the United States workforce. Since the 1970s, working women have been on an upward climb, but in 2020, female workforce participation grew from 49.7 percent to 50.04 percent, which was enough to push them to the top spot.
The majority of those jobs, held in the healthcare, hospitality and retail sectors, have also been the ones hardest hit by the current coronavirus pandemic, contributing to what some economists are calling the first–ever female recession.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 11 million jobs held by women were lost between February and May. Approximately 3 million jobs returned in June, but the percentage of women in the workforce now stands around 49.2 percent, the lowest since 2008.
In just a few months, all the gains made have been wiped away.
There are a variety of reasons for this, but there are two that contribute most heavily: the types of employment women tend to hold and massive disruptions to childcare and education systems throughout the country as a result of the pandemic.
Women, especially those in hospitality and retail, tend to have jobs that are most affected by social distancing guidelines and curbed consumer spending. These are the types of jobs that are taking the longest to recover.
At home, while many men are involved fathers and partners, women, on average, shoulder greater responsibility for household chores and caregiving. Women also tend to earn less than men. If someone has to stay home and take care of the kids because schools and daycares are closed, it makes sense (from a purely fiscal standpoint) that it be the parent who makes less money. As schools went remote this year, women left the workforce in large numbers to provide care for their children. One in four women who reported becoming unemployed during the pandemic cited a lack of childcare for their decision, according to reporting from The Washington Post.
Millions of Americans have slipped into poverty since May. As the country weathers, and eventually recovers from, the pandemic, we need our local, state and national leaders to come together to craft assistance and legislation that helps ensure an equitable recovery for all Americans, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.
Taking two steps forward and one step back is not the way to get ahead.