The past year has been rough for everyone, especially working women. Bureau of Labor statistics show that women have been leaving the workforce in droves, at a rate four times higher than their male peers. Unlike other downturns, the coronavirus-induced recession has led to losses that are not distributed evenly across genders. Women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s economic toll.
“[The] mass exodus of women from the workforce is a national emergency,” Vice President Kamala Harris writes in a Washington Post op-ed, “and it demands a national solution.”
Why Have Women Been Disproportionately Harmed?
Even before COVID working women had it rough, disproportionately represented in low wage jobs and faced with an inadequate childcare system. The pandemic has taken existing socioeconomic tensions and turned them up a notch.
Brookings analysts found that nearly half of all working women work in jobs paying low wages, with median earnings of only $10.93 per hour. Among women of color, the percentage of workers earning low wages is even higher. While some of the economic differences between men and women can be explained by personal choice, such as college major and industry of interest, an extensive body of evidence shows that women, irrespective of choices, are underpaid relative to men. Even when women receive an education and pursue employment in high wage sectors, they earn 92 cents to the man’s dollar. Research also suggests that as an occupation becomes more female dominated, median wages decline. Simply put, women are faced with an inescapable discrimination in the labor market, overrepresented in low wage jobs.
To make matters worse, there are not enough affordable, quality childcare options for working mothers. A 2018 study found that average childcare costs in every state exceed the federal definition of affordability, over 7% of annual household income. The inaccessibility of childcare forces women out of the workforce, especially low- and middle-income mothers.
With schools and daycare centers closing and low wage jobs being the first to go, women have been forced to leave their jobs either to care for children or because their company decided to let them go.
Women in the United States have long struggled to balance work and family, with the responsibility of childcare falling almost entirely on mothers. As the pandemic persists and recovery creeps along slowly, women will continue to shoulder an unequal share of its burden. As a vital part of our economy, our economic system should support women and yet it never falls to fall short.
Being a mother is the hardest job in the world. This Mother’s Day, be cognizant of that fact. Without women, the economy does not work — nor do families. Support women both in the workplace and at home.