Minnesota women applying for unemployment at higher rates than men

A pedestrian walks down a quiet street.
With many businesses closed, Hennepin Avenue in Uptown was quiet on on Saturday, as Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order took effect. State employment officials say more women have applied for unemployment insurance related to the COVID-19 pandemic than men over the past few weeks.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Minneapolis hairstylist Lauren Moore wasn’t sure she would qualify for unemployment but like many in her position, she went ahead and applied anyway.

Lauren Moore of Minneapolis, is a hairstylist
Lauren Moore is concerned she won't get unemployment assistance because she rents a chair at a local salon and is considered self-employed.
Courtesy of Lauren Moore

Moore is one of nearly 250,000 Minnesotans who have applied in the last few weeks since people were told to stay home and employers began letting workers go.

“I’m hanging in there,” Moore said over the phone this week.

But she points out people can only hang on for so long, and there is no telling when the COVID-19 pandemic’s grip on the nation’s economy will loosen.

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The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development reports record unemployment insurance applications have been pouring in over the past few weeks. Women made up 54 percent of unemployment insurance applicants the last week of March. Earlier in the month, women were 63 percent of applicants.

Employment officials think the numbers may even out as more male-dominated fields like manufacturing and construction see job cuts.

So far, female-dominated jobs in leisure and hospitality and personal services have had the highest levels of unemployment insurance applicants.

A look at Minnesota women in the workforce.
Ashley Amor, hairstylist from Plymouth.
Ashley Amor is concerned about struggling to make a living even with unemployment insurance.
Courtesy of Ashley Amor

It took Ashley Amor of Plymouth two weeks to sort out her online unemployment insurance application.

Even with help coming, Amor said she sits at the kitchen table with her partner prioritizing bills.

The laid-off hairstylist will be earning less than a third of her usual income through unemployment insurance.

“How am I supposed to do this?” Amor wondered, as she contemplated her expenses.

Minnesota leads the nation in the proportion of women who participate in the workforce, at 62 percent, according to the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Center director Christina Ewig said an analysis of the American Community Survey from 2013 through 2017 found 78 percent of Minnesota women with children under age 6 are in the workforce as well.

Ewig points out people in the service sector also have the lowest-paying jobs and therefore, less savings.

“What that has, in terms of longer term impacts, is not only not being able to pay the rent in the short term, but also building up debt over the longer term,” Ewig explained.

According to Ewig, 1 in 5 white women in Minnesota work in the service sector, compared with 1 in 3 Latina, African American and Native American women.

What’s more, she said, a continued gender wage gap already puts women at a disadvantage.

Ewig said the COVID-19 pandemic shines more light on existing disparities.

Women overall make 79 cents for every dollar men make in Minnesota. African American women earn 61 cents on the dollar, and the amount drops to 54 cents on the dollar for Latina and Native American women.