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Editorial | Island Voices

Column: COVID-19 has been disaster for women

  • Yoo Ra Sung interned this summer for the Americans for Democratic Action organization in Hawaii.

    Yoo Ra Sung interned this summer for the Americans for Democratic Action organization in Hawaii.

Due to the spread of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in February of 2020, many individuals have suffered from job displacement. Among the millions of Americans suffering from this financial setback, women have been disproportionately affected in comparison to men. As The Guardian describes, women across the nation are suffering from a “shecession.”

Between February and May of 2020, 11.5 million women lost their jobs, erasing a decade of employment gains. As a result of COVID-19, women have been filing 59% of unemployment claims, despite making up only half of the nation’s labor force. Although women regained 1.1 million jobs in May, only 10% of the women who became unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic were reemployed, while the majority of jobs gained back went to men.

Overall, the unemployment rate for women in May was 1.7 times higher than the highest unemployment rate for women during the Great Recession.

Furthermore, women of color and younger women are impacted at greater rates, with 24% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 being unemployed in May and 27.8% and 29.2% for Black and Latina women, respectively. The likely cause for the disproportionate rates of unemployment is the fact that female-dominated job sectors and industries such as teaching, nursing, leisure and hospitality, and education have been impacted the most.

Women also face further challenges involving child care, lower pay, lack of flexibility and job security, and more factors which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. When examining the demographics of frontline occupations, 93% of child care workers, 85% of home health and personal care aides, and 88% of registered nurses are women.

Among the overrepresented industries that are shedding workers such as the hospitality sector, women make up 70% of waiters and waitresses, 66% of hotel/motel desk clerks, and 88% of maids and housekeepers.

Recent female college graduates are also severely impacted by the pandemic due to the sudden reduction of jobs as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Even when COVID-19 was not an issue, the gender pay gap made it difficult for women, especially those of minority or first generation backgrounds who attend(ed) for-profit universities, to repay their student loans subsequent to graduation.

Now with the economic shutdown induced by the global pandemic, it is even harder for women to become debt-free. In 2017, 23.5% of female graduates, compared to 16% of male graduates, reported being unable to afford basic necessities such as food, housing, utilities, or medical bills. Furthermore, half of all graduates surveyed reported that their first job out of college did not offer health care benefits.

Amid a global pandemic and economic crisis worse than the Great Recession, female college students and recent graduates are being forced to make the decision between affording basic necessities and adequate health care or defaulting on their loans. This not only allows both the public health and economic crises to persist, it also creates financial barriers for women who must delay buying a home, getting married, or having children.

The inability for women to pay off their student loan debt, due to the gender wage gap, and now, COVID-19, “has profound downstream effects on women’s lives,” following them into the workforce, all the way through retirement.

Within the struggles of the current pandemic situation, we must recognize that women are being disproportionately affected, and the needs of both women currently in the working force and women about to enter the workforce must be prioritized. The skills and abilities of women are crucial to help our economy and world recover from this unprecedented crisis, and without the proper support from labor and unemployment systems, women are struggling to survive in a bleak new reality.

Yoo Ra Sung, an undergraduate student at Brandeis University, interned this summer for the Americans for Democratic Action organization in Hawaii.

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