Part 1 of a Multi-Part Series
As vaccines roll out, we turn our attention toward economic recovery. The traditional stimulus measures of the past, dominated by investment in infrastructure and construction, will not be effective in our post-pandemic world. Those sectors are male-majority employers, and COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in one month (September 2020), more than 1 million Americans over the age of 20 left the U.S. workforce. Roughly 80% – over 865,000 of them – were women. There are now nearly 2.2 million fewer women in the labor force than there were in February 2020 before the pandemic. In October 2020, the U.S. retail trade sector gained 103,700 jobs. Women accounted for only 11.4% of those gains, despite making up 48.4% of the retail trade workforce. We must do better.
Childcare and eldercare responsibilities and the school crises impacted women’s ability to work. Women also tend to work in industries hardest hit by pandemic restrictions (Travel and Tourism, Retail, Education, Service).
This exodus of women leaving the workforce is not just a crisis for gender equality; it’s a crisis for our economy. The effects of women leaving the labor force or reducing their hours to part-time amounts to an estimated $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.
As the Center for American Progress reports, there will be a macroeconomic impact from women scaling back their employment. “Businesses and the overall economy are already struggling with decreased demand due to the pandemic, and significant hits to families’ incomes will only exacerbate this problem. … If a mother’s drop in earnings means tightening spending for nonessentials such as dining out or leisure activities, then the sectors of the economy that COVID-19 has already hit hardest will experience additional prolonged pain.”
Advancing women’s equality can add between $12 and $28 trillion to the global economy. Women’s earnings can contribute to an economic resurgence in hard-hit industries like service and travel. Companies risk losing women in leadership, undoing years of progress, and weakening innovation and enterprise. Our post-pandemic economic recovery needs a new playbook.
NOTE: Part 2 coming next week