Elevated job claims continue as President Biden’s administration takes over in Washington, impacting a large portion of women in the workplace. While the 900,000 jobless claims this week represent a downturn from the prior week – when 965,000 claims were filed – the economy continues to punish many female American workers. All in all, 16 million Americans are receiving some sort of unemployment benefit right now. Reports show that the impact has been greatest for women, where increased responsibility and decreased opportunity have collided during this pandemic. Speaking about the disproportionate toll on women in the workplace, Betsey Stevenson (a professor of Economics at the University of Michigan), told the New York Times, “We are creating inequality 20 years down the line that is even greater than we have today. This is how inequality begets inequality.” As we celebrate great strides for individual women, like Vice President Kamala Harris and poet laureate Amanda Gorman, the overall job outlook for women is nothing to cheer about. Will new programs from the Biden administration be enough to turn the tide?
All Job Losses in December Reportedly Belonged to Women
A detailed report by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) shows that the United States lost a net 140,000 jobs in December. Within that statistic, men actually gained 16,000 jobs, while women lost 156,000. In other words, over 110% of the jobs lost in December were held by women. Nearly half of the 12.1 million women’s jobs lost between February and April of last year have not returned.
According to reports from The Cut, women of color have been penalized disproportionately by the coronavirus economy. Approximately 154,000 black women left the workforce in December (remember, that 140,000 number above was a net job loss). Latina unemployment, for women over the age of 20, jumped to 9.1% in December – up from 8.2% in November. Even more troubling: 38.6% of all women who lost their jobs during the pandemic have been out of work for at least six months. For African American women, that figure spikes to 40.8% – and 44% for Asian women.
Several factors are creating the unbalanced career crisis for women, according to reports in Fortune:
- Childcare Conflicts: “If you are in a low-wage service sector job, you’re not able to work from home and try to take care of your kids in between conference calls,” according to Emily Martin, vice president at the NWLC. With schools closed, or offering some sort of hybrid model, women have stepped up to shoulder the burden of childcare. Even if that burden can’t be balanced with a career outside (or inside) the home. Women with hourly jobs, lacking benefits like health insurance and sick leave, often have little choice but to leave work to care for their children.
- Vulnerable Industries: Many of the hardest-hit industries have been places where most jobs were held by women: retail, health care, state and local government. For example, leisure and hospitality cut nearly 500,000 jobs in December. In these industries, 57% of those roles were held by women.
- A Vicious Circle: searching for work, especially given the economic impact of the pandemic on families, has been difficult for many women seeking to re-enter the workforce, according to NWLC. “We know from past recessions that the longer you’re out of work, the more likely it is to depress your wages when you do get a job again,” Martin says.
Closing the Gap
Over 75 million jobless claims have been filed since the pandemic started. To put that in perspective, the entire US Labor Force numbered 160 million in its entirety last month. So, nearly half of all eligible workers have filed jobless claims since March 2020. And women have been hit especially hard, particularly those who are primary caregivers to children.
“We’ve spent 50 years talking about child care as if it were a personal problem,” Professor Stevenson tells The Cut. “We’re finally talking about it as a social problem and realizing how important it is for society,” she said. And perhaps an economic challenge as well? “I think that we’re on the cusp of potentially rethinking how people work, and how they take care of their families, and what kind of support they want from the government
The Biden administration has introduced aggressive plans to help boost the employment picture for women, including a $1.9 Trillion economic and health recovery plan, including an expanded mandatory leave package so that families can care for the sick without losing pay. Central to the success of this effort is the emphasis on vaccinations, making it easier for all to enter the workforce as businesses reopen. That re-opening has to include our schools, as the battle against COVID rages on. Safety is the greatest priority, to help women in the workforce to overcome the challenges that have robbed so many of opportunity in these past months. Here’s hoping for better days ahead.