Economic Recovery Plans Must Center Women's Employment
Setting women up for successful employment post-pandemic
Welcome back Chaise Lounge readers! It’s been quite a week here in the United States. As we look toward our new administration with hope for a brighter future, we can also reflect on many of the lessons we have learned about ourselves personally and our country. The focus in this week’s newsletter is on the importance of centering women’s employment in any plans for economic recovery. The pandemic revealed the already obvious need for paid leave and support for the child care sector in a manner that cannot be ignored. Read on for analysis and recommendations.
Mark your calendar for International Women’s Day on March 8 where the theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. It seems that many of us are thinking about how a post-COVID world must look different than our pre-COVID world. More information will be made available on UN Women’s website closer to the date. The hashtags for social media will be #IWD2021 and #InternationalWomensDay.
In Ireland, the government is preparing to extend an apology for abuse and deaths that occurred in homes for unwed mothers during the 20th century. Thousands of infants died and some were buried in mass graves. It makes me wonder if Ireland’s 2018 law allowing abortions is related?
National Issues - Women’s Unemployment is Off the Charts
The headlines from December’s United States jobs report sent a chill down many an economist’s spine. Of the 140,000 jobs lost, they were all to women while men gained 16,000 jobs. Most observers note that the hospitality and leisure industries lost the most jobs, and these are places where women traditionally dominate the workforce.
But that is not the only reason that women are losing employment. Many women are stepping away because they have no other choice. Single mothers who cannot work from home must stay home to care for and support their children through virtual school and caregiving. This affects women of color particularly since 64 percent of Black children and 42 percent of Latino children are raised by single parents, the vast majority of whom are single mothers. Many married women with children are stepping away from work as well. In September alone, 865,000 women left the workforce, most likely to care for their children who were beginning their virtual school year, compared to 216,000 men.
This anomalous situation created by the pandemic will have major repercussions for women in terms of attaining wage and employment equity going forward. With women making up 47% of the American workforce, we must pay attention to their needs in order to encourage strong economic growth post-pandemic. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, since 1970, the US economy is $2 trillion larger today as a result of women increasing their labor force participation and hours. The Center for American Progress calculates that for a 27-year-old woman who makes $50,000 annually spends three years out of the workforce, her total income loss including retirement benefits and wage growth will be close to a half-million dollars.
Katica Roy, CEO of Pipeline Equity, in discussing the effect that the pandemic has had on women’s employment states, “In the US, we have set back the aggregate gender pay gap by 22 years and the labor force participation rate by 32 years.” As the incoming Biden administration discusses additional stimulus payments, they must center those who have been most affected by the pandemic economically. Any relief efforts must be rolled out through an intersectional lens sending the money where it is most needed. During the recovery, women’s employment must be a central focus. A 2017 study by the Center for American Progress, found that “41 percent of mothers were the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, earning at least half of their total household income.” Because the pandemic is affecting breadwinning women’s employment, our support systems must be aimed at correcting that imbalance.
Women also bear the majority of the burden of “second shift” work that includes many domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning, running household errands, and childcare. Roy suggests that rather than ping pong tables and beer taps, employers should focus on benefits that will make that second shift a lighter load for all women and families. She says, “Companies can be more strategic and inclusive by offering benefits that relieve “second shift” responsibilities. These benefits include house cleaning services, laundry services, grocery shopping services, meal prep options, along with on-site childcare, tutors, and primary/urgent care.”
Finally, we have a child care crisis looming that will have a major effect on whether or not parents can return to work. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), the childcare sector is experiencing major economic problems and will be unlikely to rebound without significant government support for the long term. The $10 billion dollars allocated to child care in the Coronavirus stimulus bill is a start, but the child care sector will need support beyond that injection of dollars to regain its footing and grow. The CAP concludes, “Providing ongoing funding to the child care industry, along with reinstating and extending the emergency paid leave guarantee, is critical to reviving the economy; saving hundreds of thousands of child care jobs; and bringing 700,000 parents with young children, who will need to work and provide for their families, back into the labor force.”
As the vaccine rollout materializes, policymakers and leadership teams must develop plans for a post-COVID workplace. Even before the pandemic, many understood that paid leave is a necessity for a workforce that is both physically and emotionally healthy. The pandemic laid bare this truth, and employers must accept it and offer paid leave, whether for personal illness, caring for a child or elderly relative, or parental leave. And companies need to not only offer the leave but create a culture wherein employees are not afraid to take the leave for fear of professional repercussions. Employers must also give priority to open positions to former employees who had to leave the workplace to care for children during the pandemic. And for those who were furloughed or were able to take a temporary leave, keep their pay where it was and do not use their time away as a reason for delaying or denying promotions.
The pandemic continues to rage, and we cannot begin to make economic progress until we get it under control through vaccination. But, we can begin to make plans for a post-COVID workplace and use the lessons learned and data collected to improve our workplace policies with an eye toward gender equity.