Resilient But Not Recovered: After two years of the COVID-19 crisis, women are still struggling
Teresa Chavez is a 33-year-old Latina mom of two sons who is an essential worker – she serves as an occupational therapist at a hospital clinic in El Paso, Texas. In 2021, she recalls crying every day.
“I worry constantly about getting COVID and bringing it home,” she says. “Last year, when I was pregnant and working in-person, my stress level was sky-high. On top of everything, my husband and I struggle to pay for child care. We’re running way behind with our expenses, so recently my husband turned in his truck for cash.”
You may have heard a lot lately about the nation’s recovery – despite inflation woes, wages are surging and we’re witnessing the lowest unemployment rates in years.
But recovery from a pandemic-related recession is not at all equal. It discriminates on the basis of race, income level, industry, and even geography. And in this case, it particularly discriminates on the basis of gender.
A brand new report and accompanying survey released recently show that women are lagging far behind men when it comes to how quickly they have recovered from the recession – if they have recovered at all. The National Women’s Law Center report and survey, Resilient But Not Recovered: After two years of the COVID-19 crisis, women are still struggling, found that nearly four in 10 women report their family’s finances are worse than in February 2020.
The report found that despite strong recent job growth, the pandemic’s harsh financial and mental health repercussions continue, especially for women.
It found that more than two-thirds of the net jobs lost since the pandemic began a little over two years ago are women’s jobs – and although men have returned to their pre-pandemic labor force size, more than 1.1 million fewer women are in the labor force today than in February 2020. Black women’s unemployment rate – 6.1 percent – remains more than a full percentage point higher than it was two years ago. And nearly 40 percent of women – including 66 percent of women who lost or quit a job since February 2020 and 51 percent of women in jobs paying $15 an hour or less – say their family’s financial situation is worse today than before the pandemic, compared to 26 percent of men.
The report lists caregiving demands as the primary factor that pushed many women out of the workforce and have made it harder for them to return. For example, among parents who lost or quit a job during the pandemic, only 41 percent of mothers have gotten a new job, compared to 78 percent of fathers. The accompanying survey makes it clear that women want policy solutions that improve their ability to return to and thrive at work. For example, 84 percent of women support ensuring access to high-quality child care that costs no more than 7 percent of their family’s income, and nearly nine in 10 women support universal paid family and medical leave.
“It should be no surprise that women are emerging from the pandemic in worse economic shape than men,” said Jasmine Tucker, NWLC Director of Research and the report’s co-author. “Long before the pandemic, millions of women, and especially women of color, were already on the edge of a fiscal cliff – barely living paycheck to paycheck, cobbling together child care, and routinely lacking basic protections like paid leave and health insurance. Today, women are more likely than men to have lost their jobs or left the labor force entirely over the past two years – and more likely to face caregiving demands, inflexible workplaces, and inadequate pay and benefits that can widen wage and wealth gaps and keep women out of the workforce. Two years into the pandemic, ongoing gender and racial disparities threaten a full recovery, and likely will extend its impact well into a third year and beyond.”
The NWLC report found that recent statistics heralding low unemployment rates are misleading. For example, if the 1.1 million women who have left the labor force were counted among the unemployed, the unemployment rate for all women would have been 5.1 percent in February 2022 instead of 3.6 percent.
And Black women’s labor force participation rate was 61.7 percent in February 2022, down more than 2 percentage points from February 2020, before the pandemic began. Since February 2020, 199,000 Black women have left the labor force; if these women were counted among the unemployed, the unemployment rate for Black women would have been 7.8 percent instead of 6.1 percent in February 2022.
Finally, Latinas’ labor force participation rate was 59.6 percent in February 2022, down 2.5 percentage points from February 2020. Since February 2020, 41,000 Latinas have left the labor force; if these women were counted among the unemployed, the unemployment rate for Latinas would have been 5.2 percent instead of 4.8 percent in February 2022.
Julie Vogtman, NWLC Director of Job Quality and the report’s other co-author, acknowledges that the American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, helped provide support for families and the economy – support that helped bring unemployment close to pre-pandemic levels.
“But we can’t allow a broken pre-pandemic status quo to be our benchmark for recovery,” she argues. “We can’t accept a return to a ‘normal’ that never worked for millions of women. And we can’t wait one minute longer to put policies in place that will bolster families’ incomes, expand access to health care, and ensure people can care for their loved ones without sacrificing a paycheck. Congress must deliver the policies that women – especially the women of color who have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis – need and demand. The strength and resiliency of our nation’s economy depend on it.”