The pandemic forced another 275,000 women out of the US workforce in January, exacerbating the catastrophic employment crisis for working women.
According to an analysis of Friday’s jobs report by the National Women’s Law Center, women made up nearly 80% of American adults who retired or sought work last month. More than 2.3 million women have left the labor market since February last year. (The pandemic has had a smaller impact on men, even though there are more women than women in the U.S. workforce; nearly 1.8 million men have stopped working or looking for work since February 2020, according to the NWLC.)
Working women have now lost more than three decades to job growth in less than a year, as we report in the new issue of The Washington City Times. The ongoing employment crisis, closely linked to a widespread health care crisis, has especially hurt women of color who disproportionately work in restaurants, shops, education, health care and other “essential” industries. These workers, who often receive very low wages, rarely have the opportunity to work remotely and try to plan their paid work around distance learning and other childcare responsibilities.
“All the while, women of color have suffered from this crisis,” said Jasmine Tucker, research director at the NWLC. “If the unemployment rates of white men were as high as those of black and Latin women, we would have done something about it.”
While the overall unemployment rate fell to 6.3% in January, it rose to 8.5% for black women aged 20 and over, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday. The unemployment rate remained even higher, albeit slightly better than in December, for Latina women (8.8%), but fell to a better than average 5.5% for white men and 5.1% for white women.
The latest government jobs report, which mirrors last month’s presidential transition, also underscores how much work remains to be done for President Joe Biden to address the pandemic and its ongoing economic impact. The cessation of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has not yet allowed for widespread reopening of schools, while the continued closure of bars and restaurants and other employers that rely on personal customers has resulted in many such companies having their stores permanently Closed. Employers in the leisure and hospitality, retail and healthcare industries all cut jobs in January, the government reported Friday.
The US economy took 49,000 net jobs in January and, contrary to last month’s headlines, women as a group were responsible for all those gains. But the mediocre rebound reflected little real progress for the US economy or women’s employment. Also on Friday, the government revised its previous estimates of December job losses and concluded that the U.S. economy had lost a net 227,000 jobs that month – worse than the 140,000 losses it initially reported in January.
It is estimated that women as a group lost 196,000 jobs in December, 25.6% more than the 156,000 losses initially reported. But since the government now estimates that men as a group also lost jobs in December, women are no longer responsible for 100% of the losses in December, according to the NWLC’s analysis of the revised data. Now they account for 86.3% of that month’s job losses.
“It’s bleak. It’s all bleak,” says Tucker. “There is pain across the board, but women certainly suffer.”
Labor economists and policy experts hope that President Biden’s massive $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 contingency plan and the proposals for paid time off and childcare could alleviate some of this pain. The plan has yet to pass Congress; much of that came up in a Senate vote on Friday, though without support for a federal minimum wage increase that would disproportionately affect women of color.
But Tucker is one of many experts concerned that the long-term economic damage to women has already been done. “People think that recessions are temporary, but they aren’t. The damage from this goes beyond if you lost your job,” she says.
Some economists estimate that the pandemic will widen the gender pay gap by five percentage points. And Tucker fears women of color will once again be particularly vulnerable to reduced wages and poorer job quality when the pandemic ends and employers return to work.
“Employers can choose who to hire again, and I don’t think we’ll like who they pick,” she says. “It won’t be women of color.”
More about the most powerful women in business from The Washington City Times:
- 5 steps the US government could take to address the crisis facing working women
- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen: The Most Prepared Woman in Washington
- Nearly 80% of the 346,000 workers who disappeared from the US workforce in January are women
- The pandemic has derailed women’s careers and livelihoods. Is America giving up on them?
- What stops men from doing more at home? Actual care delivery experience