Why the Pandemic is a Uniquely Women’s Issue

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only riddled the world with disease, death, and heartbreak, but, due to the fact that no one left their house for a long time, many economic challenges as well. At the center of these economic challenges is the role women play in the workplace. In the US, women have been dropping out of the workforce in record numbers. Forced to take on the titles of teacher and caretaker in addition to a job and the never ending job that is motherhood, many women, understandably, couldn’t handle it. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, women in California suffered from unemployment at a rate of 12% in the last year. Compared to the same statistic for men, 10.4%, and California’s pre-pandemic unemployment rate of 4.1%, the numbers are not insignificant. Not only are women working less, but the pandemic has been particularly hard on service positions like hairdressers, salon techs, housekeepers, all traditionally held by women. Unsurprisingly, women of color face more severe effects of unemployment. From the same article, 13.4% of Latinas, 12.8% of Black women, and 12.5% of Asian women remained unemployed as of March 2021, compared to 11.5 percent of white women. 

In the 2020 McKinsey and Company Women in the Workplace report, which surveys women from over 600 companies, 88% of women said that they had been provided information about paid leave due to childcare by their companies, but only 18% said their companies maintained their childcare policies, while only 46% of companies started or expanded their childcare resources. That leaves 36% of women in companies who are not providing or assisting with childcare. The choice between career and children, or the third and often financially unattainable and, during COVID, unsafe option of bringing in help, forces mother’s to make sacrifices in their performance in one place or another. One mother in the survey said, “How can you continue to perform at the same level as in the office when you had no distractions, plus being asked to basically become a teacher for kids and everything else with online learning? I’m doing it all, but at the same time I’m feeling like I’m not doing any of it very well. I also worry that my performance is being judged because I’m caring for my children...I feel that I need to always be on and ready to respond instantly to whatever comes in. And if that’s not happening, then that’s going to reflect poorly on my performance.”

I could go on and on about how the pandemic has been disproportionately affecting women with more reports and data, but it all comes to the same conclusion. More women left the workforce during the pandemic than men. The Center for American Progress Report stated that four times as many women left the workforce than men due to the pandemic. The point is, this is going to take women years to come back from. We had been inching closer and closer to that 50% mark, and the pandemic will be a real blow to that, but this isn’t an impossible challenge. Policies like the child tax credit that was recently enacted serve as a sort of social security for children. The money that parents receive back in their bank accounts could be used to pay for childcare, or other living expenses. As of now, this credit is only for the 2021 tax year, but making this policy permanent could be an investment in both the wellbeings of our children and mothers, but an opportunity to get women back into the workforce. Another policy that invests in both our children and our mothers is universal Pre-K. Adding Pre-K to the public school system would give women who work one less year where they are balancing the demands of a job and a young child at home. It would also alleviate the costs of whatever form of childcare that mother is using for her child when she is working. Additionally, the Brookings report on this topic has shown that early learning leads to positive outcomes like better high school performance, decreased crime rates, and actually ends up saving the government $13,000-$19,000 per child. Universal Pre-K also has bipartisan support. No matter what your party, people want universal Pre-K to become a reality, we just need to get our elected officials to vote on it. Policies like these could not only help women reenter the workforce, but fundamentally change the relationship between mothers, their children, and their jobs. To act on this, call your local representative and/or senator and tell them you support universal Pre-K and continuing child tax credits permanently. 

Mckinley and Company Report- https://wiw-report.s3.amazonaws.com/Women_in_the_Workplace_2020.pdf

Center for American Progress Report- https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/10/30/492582/covid-19-sent-womens-workforce-progress-backward/

Brookings Report- https://www.brookings.edu/essay/why-has-covid-19-been-especially-harmful-for-working-women/

Deloitte Report- https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-women-at-work-global-outlook-report.pdf

Brookings (Universal Pre-K)- https://www.brookings.edu/articles/kids-need-an-early-start-universal-preschool-education-may-be-the-best-investment-americans-can-make-in-our-childrens-education-and-our-nations-future/ 

LA Times- https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-05-07/will-california-women-bounce-back-covid-unemployment-california

Forbes- https://www.forbes.com/sites/deloitte/2021/07/01/why-women-are-leaving-the-workforce-after-the-pandemic-and-how-to-win-them-back/?sh=61dcd4a3796e


Written by Marianna Pecora