The COVID pandemic has caused an economic downturn that has disproportionately affected women in the job market and has led to an increase in income and economic inequality between the sexes. As a result of stay-at-home orders that interfere with out-of-home childcare and the closure of non-essential businesses, reduction in work hours has resulted in women working fewer hours or leaving their jobs entirely and has led to a 20-50% increase in the gender wage gap. If present trends continue, women will become more likely to be unemployed or have severely reduced hours and may even enter into poverty. In sum, equality between the sexes will become increasingly more difficult to achieve.
Historically, economic downturns have affected women's job retention rates and work hours less because they generally occupy stable professions like teaching and nursing. Interestingly, the COVID-19 economic downturn has proven to have the opposite trends. State-issued stay-at-home orders have rendered complete job losses in non-essential professions whose businesses cannot continue to operate and caused certain professions to transition to being fully virtual. Statistically, only 22% of female workers are employed in highly telecommutable occupations, as opposed to 28% of male workers. Additionally, only 17% of employed women work in critical occupations compared to 24% of employed men. These statistics give us reason to believe that women have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19-related restrictions.
Delving deeper into the COVID-19 job crisis, it is clear that one of the main contributing factors that affect an individual’s ability to work is the presence of children. As a result of stay-at-home orders, schools and childcare facilities have closed and familial child care practices are discouraged in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus even among family members that live in separate households. While there are certainly a plethora of different and unique familial situations and household makeups in the United States, for the purpose of this study I focus on married couples in traditional male and female relationships, single family households in which the female is the head, and non-family households (i.e. single individuals) in which the female is the householder. Taking account all of the households in the U.S., 48% are married couples, 12% are single parents with a female head of home, and 18% are single women. As a result of the likelihood of women’s jobs being less secure, we have reason to believe that single women and single moms would feel a disproportionate economic burden if they were to lose their jobs or cut back on salaried hours. Single moms would feel an extra burden, particularly, because of daycare closures and not being able to find care for their children and struggling to financially support another person. Statistics show that if all schools in the US closed for a period leading to single mothers not being able to work, 21% of all children would be at risk of living in poverty.
The data is clear as to how women are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 closures. Luckily, or maybe unluckily, as a country, we are still in the COVID-19 pandemic. We can learn from other countries that have successfully managed the disease and are on the road to recovery economically. Legislative measures need to be taken to protect women in this country from future economic damage, especially as we consider the possibility of entering another lockdown this winter.
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