The Labor Department has reported that the U.S. economy lost a net 140,000 jobs in December. According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), women lost 156,000 jobs overall during December, while men gained 16,000 jobs. That means that women accounted for 100% of all of U.S. job losses in December.
Since the start of the COVID crisis, the U.S. has netted a loss of approximately 9.8 million jobs. 55% of the lost jobs belonged to women. The pandemic has crippled the retail, restaurant, and other service sector industries, where women make up the majority of workers.
Women of color have been disproportionately impacted by the employment crisis. In December, the unemployment rate was 6.7% overall and 5.8% for white men. But during the same period, 8.4% of Black women and 9.1% of Latina women were unemployed.
In addition, nearly 2.1 million women have dropped out of the labor force entirely since February. Studies show that since the pandemic began, the burden of childcare and remote learning has fallen much more heavily on mothers than on fathers. As a result, many women have either stopped working or stopped looking for work.
Many economists and analysts are worried about the long-term impact of this employment crisis on women’s economic health and future earnings. Almost 40% of unemployed women in December have been out of work for six months or more. According to the NWLC, the longer a worker is out of a job, the lower the worker’s wages will be when they do become employed.
Of course, these issues are not entirely new. Even before the pandemic, women working full-time in the U.S. were paid $.82 for each dollar paid to men, and the gap is even wider for women of color. The employment crisis brought on by the pandemic may further widen pay gaps and damage the financial security of women and their families.
But this is not a foregone conclusion. Some of these impacts can be avoided if the government offers robust pandemic relief. Experts recommend that funding be directed to state and local governments (which employ many women), paid family and medical leave, and schools and childcare so that women are not forced to choose between caring for their family and earning an income.
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