Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, both public health and the economy in the U.S. have taken a direct hit. Unlike the Great Recession, the pandemic-caused recession appears to have had a more negative impact on women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May, the unemployment rate for women was 14.3%, yet it was 11.9% for men during the same time period. In May 2019, the female non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was similar to that of men: 3.3% compared to 3.4%, respectively.
With men making up slightly more of the total workforce than women, and pre-pandemic unemployment levels being fairly similar between the two genders, why are more women now losing their jobs?
Impact on Female-Dominated Industries
As local governments tried to reduce COVID-19 infections, industries and jobs dependent on in-person interaction saw significant drops in revenue between March and May. The virus prevention measures forced many of these establishments, deemed nonessential businesses, to either temporarily close their doors or severely limit the number of customers they could serve at a time.
While leisure and hospitality sustained significant job losses compared to other sectors, there isn’t a huge difference in the unemployment rate between men and women in this industry. For instance, in May, the unemployment rate for workers in leisure and hospitality was actually slightly higher for men at 36.2%, compared to 35.6% for women. For other industries significantly impacted by COVID-19, however, the job loss for women was drastically higher because most employees in these industries are female.
Besides restaurants and hotels, organizations such as K-12 schools, colleges and universities, childcare centers, retail stores and salons experienced plummeting revenues during March and April, though revenues began to increase in May. Shelter-in-place orders forced many of these establishments to either temporarily close or drastically limit the number of customers they could serve. All of these industries comprise workforces that are predominantly female.
The largest job losses were sustained in April. Trade, transportation and utilities lost 3.057 million jobs. A segment of this sector, retail trade, saw a 44.4% decline in job growth for shoe stores, for example, and a 73.2% decline in job growth for women’s clothing stores. Women made up 58.0% of the workforce at shoe stores and 86.0% of the workforce at women’s clothing stores in April. Similarly, education and health care services lost 2.544 million jobs in April.
Women made up 93.0% of childcare workers, 62.0% of educational services workers and 79.0% of healthcare workers. In April, job growth decreased by 33.4% in childcare/daycare services, 12.2% in educational services and 9.0% in healthcare.
Another female-dominated industry negatively impacted by the pandemic was personal care services. Occupations included in this industry are hairstylists and cosmetologists. In April, job growth declined by 78.8%, and the workforce was 87.0% female.
Factors That May Impact Women More Than Men
The deciding factors for who is laid off or furloughed during this pandemic have been whether the type of work is deemed essential by local government officials, and whether the work can be performed remotely. Unfortunately, a large number of female workers are employed in many of the industries most negatively affected by the downturn. For example, women make up a fair percentage of the occupations within management, professional, and related occupations within the public relations, advertising, banking, finance and insurance industries. Since the majority of these occupations can be done remotely, however, the unemployment rate in those industries has not been as high, compared to women working in leisure and hospitality, education, childcare, retail and healthcare.
Though the 2.5 million jobs added in May indicate the first signs of an economic recovery, public health officials predict a second wave of the virus, and social distancing measures remain in effect throughout the country. Without a vaccine or a drastic decrease in COVID-19 infections, many economists predict the negative impact on the economy will persist. This will be especially true for professions that rely on in-person interaction.
Though many economists, including those at ThinkWhy, expect the economy to hit its lowest point between Q2 2020 and Q3 2020 before beginning a delayed rebound in Q4 2020/Q1 2021, they also worry about the long-term effects on the economy if many of these jobs held by women don’t return. The lack of income will likely reduce consumer spending, which accounts for approximately 70.0% of U.S. GDP.
Another factor that may contribute to women being able to perform their jobs is childcare. Even though many women work outside the home, women generally carry the bulk of childcare responsibilities Titan Alon, an economics professor at the University of California San Diego, found that even when both spouses work full-time, married women with full-time jobs spend about 10.3 hours a week on childcare, compared with 7.2 hours for married men. With daycare centers functioning at limited capacities and schools possibly relying more on virtual learning than on in-person classes, some women’s ability to maintain their jobs full-time may be strained.
“If you have to take care of your children eight hours of the day when they would have been in school...how could you literally work a full-time job as well,” Alon said to The Wall Street Journal.
Some women who have lost their jobs, and are the primary caretakers for their children, may struggle with being able to search for and accept other employment.
“You’re out of a job. You’re also without care for your kids, making it difficult to look for another job,” Nicole Mason, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told The Wall Street Journal.
Though the circumstances differ for women once their childcare situation, industry and socio-economic backgrounds are considered, women who work in public-facing industries or depend on schools or daycare centers for childcare may struggle the most with regaining their pre-coronavirus employment levels.
ThinkWhy continuously monitors and forecasts labor data at all levels, measuring impact to MSAs, industries, occupations and businesses across the U.S.