The coronavirus pandemic has created a sprawling economic disaster, slashing jobs across nearly every industry. It has also piled potentially unprecedented pressure on parents, forcing many to balance 24/7 child care with work, whether remote or in-person. Particularly for women, this perfect storm of obligations has been devastating: We already know that the pandemic is squeezing women out of the workforce, and the December jobs report highlights just how dire the situation is. According to U.S. government data, the country lost 140,000 jobs last month — and per an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, all of them belonged to women.
The NWLC delved into December’s numbers and found that, whereas men actually gained about 16,000 jobs, women as a whole lost 156,000. Meaning that women account for a reported 111 percent of December’s employment losses.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic’s recession, the downturn has weighed heaviest on women of color. In total, the NWLC counted roughly 154,000 Black women who left the workforce in December, “the largest one-month drop in their labor force size since March and April 2020.” Among Black women aged 20 or older, the unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, or about 1 in 12 people, per the NWLC. While that’s lower than November’s 9 percent, it also marks an alarming contrast to the pre-pandemic unemployment rate for Black women in this age group: 4.9 percent in February 2020. What’s more, roughly 1 in 11 Latinas aged 20 or older were unemployed in December, or 9.1 percent, compared to 8.2 percent in November. Looking at the long-term trends, the NWLC found that about 38.6 percent of women over the age of 16 who’d lost their jobs during the pandemic had been out of work for at least six months as of December. Among Black women, that figure rose to 40.8 percent; for Latinas, it was 38.3 percent; and for Asian women, it was 44 percent, a number the NWLC deemed “startling.” According to CNN, white women did not experience these trends as severely.
As Fortune reports, the losses coincide with new spikes in COVID-19 transmission rates nationwide, which have forced renewed cuts in the hospitality and leisure sectors. There, a reported 56.6 percent of jobs lost had been held by women. Indeed, industries made up mostly of women (retail, restaurants, health care, caregiving, state and local governments) were first and often hardest hit last spring. Among parents, the necessity for round-the-clock childcare has also added another layer of complication that’s disproportionately affected women — especially those working hourly jobs that often lack benefits and scheduling flexibility.
“If you are in a low-wage service-sector job, you’re not able to work from home and try to take care of your kids in between conference calls,” Emily Martin, the NWLC’s vice-president for education and workplace justice, told Fortune. “Those are jobs where, if you have a caregiving crisis, you may just have to leave the workforce entirely.”
The NWLC tallied a net loss of 5.4 million jobs among women since February 2020, or more than half of all jobs lost since the pandemic began. For months, experts have stressed the far-reaching implications of this widening gender gap, fearing its effects could be felt for generations to come.
“We are creating inequality 20 years down the line that is even greater than we have today,” Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, told the New York Times in November. “This is how inequality begets inequality.”