The COVID-19 pandemic depressed economic activity and decimated employment numbers to levels not seen since the Great Depression.1 The impact was felt across industries and throughout the world. But, as with all disasters, the damage was more severe for certain sectors of the population. In this case, women have been more adversely affected,2 not only by direct job losses, but also by the infrastructural impact of the pandemic, such as closing schools and daycare facilities, that made it difficult to impossible for women to manage conflicting responsibilities.
A disproportionate impact to women’s employment was apparent from the earliest days of the pandemic. In April 2020, the unemployment rate in the U.S. increased by 10.3%, bringing the total unemployment rate to 13% for men, but a considerably higher 15.5% for women.3 Black and Hispanic women suffered even greater employment losses, accounting for 46% of the total decrease in women’s employment, even though they represent less than a third of the female labor force.4
Between February 2020 and February 2021, 2.4 million women left the labor force (meaning they were neither working nor looking for work), as compared to 1.8 million men who left the labor force.5 And there is evidence to suggest a good number of those women may not come back to work, such as the 18% of employed mothers who reported to McKinsey in 2020 that they were considering leaving the workforce entirely.6
All segments of the American population were affected by the pandemic and job losses were staggering across the board, but women were particularly vulnerable to the idiosyncrasies of this particular recession for multiple and overlapping reasons, including:
Nearly half of all women (46%) work in low-wage jobs7 where employment fell by 11.7% during 2020, as compared to 5.4% for middle-wage earners and virtually no change for high-wage workers.4
Women account for 78% of healthcare workers who were at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 during 2020.7
Women fill the majority of service sector occupations where most of the job losses occurred.9