One of the more widely discussed economic impacts of the pandemic has been the Female Recession. Recently, the New York Times’ Patricia Cohen provided an excellent, yet disturbing look at both the short-term and long-term negative consequences of this phenomenon. But even as new stats and stories continue to roll in, we must start to look ahead and understand what can be done to build back these jobs and put women’s economic power on a path to sustainable growth.
Unsustainable Pre-COVID Gains
Up until March, there was a litany of good news demonstrating women’s gains economically and in the workforce. The number of college degrees earned by women was increasing. For the first time, there were equal numbers of male and female college graduates working. In fact, female participation in the workforce had hit an all-time high by the end of last year. With this, Pew Research also found that working women were gravitating to higher paying jobs, boosting their average hourly rate from $15 in 1980 to $22 in 2018.
But a closer look reveals that not all was wine and roses. Those gains were built on unsteady ground and there were already signs that the forward momentum had the potential to stall. According to Ashley Putnam, Director Economic Growth and Mobility for the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, research conducted in 2018 showed that women were at greater risk of holding jobs that could become automated, especially women of color. Further, a Center for American Progress study found that mothers were 40 percent more likely than fathers to report the negative impact of childcare issues on their careers.
If these two female workforce-related issues of job type and child care sound familiar, it’s because they have become the primary drivers of the Female Recession. The pandemic did not create these challenges, it only accelerated and exacerbated the pre-pandemic root weaknesses.
Consequences of Female Job Loss
The sudden loss of jobs in sectors dominated by female workers and the absence of viable childcare options led to more than 865,000 women dropping out of the workforce between August and September of this year, compared to only 216,000 men during that same period (according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of Bureau of Labor stats). This trend is likely to continue as a survey by Lean In and McKinsey shows one in four women are considering reducing hours or leaving the workforce altogether in the next year.
Even worse, says Dalila Wilson-Scott, EVP and Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast Corporation, “women of color are disproportionately affected by this pandemic-induced recession.” This can intensify wealth and earning gaps that existed before the outbreak. To help, she is leading Comcast’s partnerhip with programs serving these communities in order to advance the training and support they need, with an emphasis on helping women of color close the gender gap in the tech sector.
This troubling trend of losing female representation in the workforce portends broader economic consequences for industry and society. Reams of research, including a