Working for Justice

What Impact is COVID-19 Having on Women in the Work Force?

According to a policy brief by the UN Secretary-General published on April 9, 2020, “across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.” The policy brief concludes that of the nearly 2.7 billion workers impacted by full or partial lockdown measures, women’s economic outcomes will be affected disproportionately to men. That is due to a confluence of factors.

Worldwide, “women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs” and have less access to the attendant social protections than men. Women who experience layoffs, furlough, or reduced salaries due to COVID-19 are therefore more likely to suffer economic insecurity.

In many countries, layoffs have been especially high in sectors in which women are overrepresented, such as hospitality, retail, and tourism. COVID-19 is also having particularly destructive effect on positions women hold in the informal economy, and these jobs usually offer the fewest social protections, such as paid sick leave.

According to the policy brief, women worldwide spend three times as many hours as men on unpaid care and domestic work and constitute the majority of single-parent households. As COVID-19 caused school and daycare closures, and as social distancing measures and illness interrupted many families’ child- or eldercare arrangements, the demands on women have increased vastly. At the time of publication, UNESCO estimated that 1.52 billion students were home due to school closures, and in turn, “the demand for unpaid childcare provision is falling more heavily on women, not only because of the existing structure of the workforce, but also because of social norms. This will constrain their ability to work, particularly when jobs cannot be carried out remotely.”

The policy brief warns that “it is possible to project that the impacts of the COVID-19 global recession will result in a prolonged dip in women’s incomes and labor force participation, with compounded impacts for women already living in poverty.”

This prediction is already visible in the United States. According to a May 2020 analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, women accounted for 55% of all job losses in the United States in April 2020. The NWLC explained that between July 2010 and February 2020, women in the United States gained 11.1 million jobs, but by “April 2020, the entirety of those gains was wiped out.”

These economic effects are particularly acute for women of color. In April 2020, while the unemployment rate was 12.4% for white men and 15.5% for women overall, “[f]or Black women, the unemployment rate increased to 16.4%, and for Latinas it was 20.2%.” The NWLC concluded that “[t]he COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the disastrous consequences of longstanding racial and gender inequities, and women have proven particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s economic consequences.”

Working mothers are uniquely impacted by the pandemic. According to a June 3, 2020 article by the New York Times, with the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, parents went from spending an average of 30 hours on childcare and household tasks per week to almost double – 59 hours per week. And mothers spent an average 15 hours more per week than fathers. Some women have been forced to quit their jobs due to these increased demands at home. The article predicts that “[f]or many working mothers, the gradual reopening won’t solve their problems, but compound them — forcing them out of the labor force or into part-time jobs while increasing their responsibilities at home.”

COVID-19 could have a long-term effect on women’s economic outcomes and participation in the work force and increase employment discrimination against women.

If you have questions about your rights as a woman or a parent at work, you should consult with an employment lawyer. Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP has experienced employment lawyers in New York, Washington DC, Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego, and Tennessee.

Carolin Guentert is an Associate in the New York office of Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP. She received her J.D. from New York University School of Law in 2014, her LL.M. with distinction from Georgetown University Law Center in 2019, and her B.A. summa cum laude in International Studies from The College of New Jersey, with minors in French and Women’s and Gender Studies.
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