How the pandemic is squeezing women out of their jobs — maybe for good

A woman with a face mask sits at a desk in an office.
In most recessions, it’s the men who lose jobs. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment is highest among women, and it could take decades to make up what was lost.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

This year started on a high note for women in the workforce. In February, right before the pandemic closed down the United States, women made up more than half the nation’s civilian, nonfarm labor force. The gender wage gap was also at its most narrow, with women making 81-cents for every dollar men make.

But the pandemic has wiped out nearly all of women’s gains in the workforce over the last decade, leading some economists to call the current crisis a “she-cession.”

Part of this is explained by the disproportionate impact the shutdown had on jobs that women work. Restaurants, tourism and retail — all sectors where women make up the majority of the workforce — were severely affected.

But an even more important factor is child care. As daycare centers and schools shut down, so did parents’ ability to work,  and once again, women have been more affected than men. Among married households, mothers provide more than 60 percent of child care, even if both partners work full time. Mothers with young children are particularly impacted. They’ve cut their work hours five times more than fathers. Some are quitting altogether.

Tuesday, MPR News guest host Catharine Richert tackled this complex topic. What does this mean for women, long-term? Is America reaching a tipping point when it comes to the child care crisis? And is there anything that can be done in the short term to prevent further losses for women?

Guests:

  • Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology and women, gender and sexuality studies at Washington University

  • Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.


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