The impact of the pandemic on the demands of family and work is forcing many women out of the workforce.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy and the way we work, and this appears to be especially true for women struggling to care for children and provide for them at the same time. In the midst of a forced e-learning crisis and general health crisis of epic proportions, the U.S. Department of Labor figures from Jan. 8, 2021, show the U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs in December, and women accounted for all of them.
That month, women suffered all of the 156,000 job losses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and men gained 16,000. These numbers further prove women are taking a greater economic hit when it comes to their careers.
The news is particularly bad for women of color. BLS figures show that of the 156,000 women were unemployed in December 2020, 9.1% were Latina and 8.4% were Black women.
Women hit especially hard by the pandemic
According to an analysis from the National Women’s Law center, women have suffered more job losses from the pandemic overall. Since February of 2020, women have lost over 5.4 million jobs, the study notes, which accounts for 55% of all job losses combined since the crisis began.
Further, many unemployed women have been out of work for most of the COVID-19 crisis. Among adult women ages 20 and over who were unemployed last month, about 2 in 5 had been out of work for at least six months. For Black women ages 16 and over, the rate of long-term unemployment was 40.8%, and 38.3% for Latina women.
When you consider most women take on more of the household responsibilities and child-rearing, it’s easy to see why this is the case. After all, a 2020 report published by Lean In showed that women in relationships with men were more than three times as likely to handle the bulk of childcare and housework during the pandemic. For single mothers without any help, the challenges are even greater.
By and large, many women are finding it impossible to help children learn at home while continuing to work at home or anywhere else. Add in the stress of having an entire family quarantined, and many women, mothers especially, are finding themselves in a lose-lose situation where something has to give.
Future of women in the workforce
While some women who have recently left the workforce were laid off, others left on their own terms. The Lean In study points to an array of reasons many employees, and especially women, are choosing to downsize or even end their careers. This includes lack of flexibility at work, feeling they always have to be “on,” worrying their performance is lacking due to household obligations and feeling continuously blindsided by factors beyond their control.
Of those surveyed, women still considering making a change in their careers due to the pandemic were weighing cutting their work hours (17%), switching to a less demanding job (16%), taking a leave of absence (15%), going from full-time to part-time (8%) and simply leaving the workplace altogether (7%).
Meanwhile, fathers were considering these options at considerably lower rates: cutting their work hours (9%), switching to a less demanding job (11%), taking a leave of absence (9%), going from full-time to part-time (2%) and simply leaving the workplace altogether (4%).
Experts worry companies will lose women in important positions, and especially in leadership positions in firms nationwide. Data from the National Women’s Law Center shows female senior-level employees are frequently held to higher performance standards than men, and “they may be more likely to take the blame for failure – so when the stakes are high, as they are now, senior-level women could face higher criticism and harsher judgment.”
Women have made great strides in the workforce over the last few decades and even the last few years, yet COVID-19 appears to be hindering that progress. We can only hope employers begin offering more resources and support.
The National Women’s Law Center says companies who identify the problems and address them have the best chance at helping their employees get through this difficult time in a way that is “flexible and sustainable” for everyone.
“If not, the consequences could badly hurt women, business and the economy as a whole,” they write.