The U.S. government reported horrifying unemployment numbers on Friday, with the jobless rate hitting 14.7% in April, a level not seen since the Great Depression.
The numbers were even worse for women.
Women make up 49% of the U.S. workforce but held 55% of the jobs lost in April as businesses shuttered to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to an analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data released by the National Women’s Law Center on Friday.
The unemployment rate for women stands at an unprecedented rate — 15.5% — the first time ever that U.S. women have faced a double-digit unemployment rate. For Black and Hispanic women, it’s worse: 16.4% and 20.2%, respectively.
The unemployment rate for men is 13%; for white men, it is 12.4%
We knew this devastation was coming. The businesses hit hardest by coronavirus-related shutdowns are in industries dominated by women: hotels and restaurants and nail salons and hair salons that let millions of employees around the country go as they shuttered to prevent the spread of the virus.
But it’s not just layoffs and firings. With schools and child care centers closed, it’s been mainly women who have taken on that extra work at home. Some women, who could be out in the labor force, are not right now because there’s no child care available for their kids.
Meanwhile, incredibly, women also make up the majority of front-line essential workers, according to an analysis in The New York Times.
The job losses are even worse than some had seen coming. Even in industries where women already make up the majority or close to the majority of workers, they’re overrepresented in the job losses.
For example, women comprise 52% of the workforce in the leisure and hospitality industry. But in April, women suffered 54% of the job losses in that sector, according to the law center’s analysis. Women lost nearly 1.3 million retail jobs ― 61% of the jobs lost in that sector. Yet, women make up slightly less than half of that workforce at 48%.
“Women were overrepresented in the low-paid, more contingent, less stable jobs in these sectors of the economy in the first place. They were the ones standing on the edge of the cliff, and it isn’t shocking that they are the first ones to lose their footing.”
This is a gender gap issue. In sectors where women hold the majority or close to the majority of the jobs, they hold an even larger percentage of the lowest-paying roles that were the first to hit the chopping block.
“Women were overrepresented in the low-paid, more contingent, less stable jobs in these sectors of the economy in the first place,” said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “They were the ones standing on the edge of the cliff, and it isn’t shocking that they are the first ones to lose their footing.”
Yet so far, policymakers haven’t cottoned on to the uniquely feminine nature of the coronavirus downturn. An effort to offer robust paid leave for workers who are shouldering increased caregiving responsibilities because of school shutdowns — primarily women — largely sputtered out in Congress in March.
The paid sick and family leave policies that were passed as part of the stimulus package could leave out up to 83% of the workforce, according to a new analysis from the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Women have never seen unemployment numbers like this. During the Great Recession a decade ago, they fared better than men. Their unemployment rate reached a peak of 8.4% during the Great Recession, while male unemployment went up to 10.4%. Men also topped double digits in the 1980s when their unemployment rate reached 10.1%.
The economic devastation for women could continue well after the pandemic. Without significant government aid, at least half of child care centers around the country are in danger of shuttering permanently because of the virus.
“If there’s no child care infrastructure left once other sectors of the economy reopen, then women won’t be able to go back to work,” Martin said.
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