The second September of the pandemic has passed – and for women, the job picture doesn’t look much brighter than the first.
Last September, the numbers were staggering: 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce – four times as many as men, who lost 216,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By that time, much of the country had spent six months staying at home and most of the children had started the school year by distance learning.
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This year has shown a less precipitous plunge. Yet an alarming 309,000 women left the workforce in September. In contrast, men not only stemmed the losses, but also gained jobs, with 182,000 jobs found last month, according to BLS data. Black women continue to be the least recovered from the economic fallout from the pandemic.
While some economists predicted last year that we would be back to some normalcy this fall, the delta variant, which was rising in the United States in early September when the data was collected, changed the results.
“The pandemic is factor number one: what’s going on with it and what people think it is safe to do,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “The data is pretty clear that there are risks in going out, working with the public, and that’s reflected in those numbers.”
And the numbers are part of a bigger story. This is the biggest release since September 2020, in addition to a general pandemic trend in which many jobs held primarily by women and disproportionately women of color – service, retail, hospitality, care – have been eliminated. And for many women, domestic responsibilities have increased as support structures such as daycares and nursing homes (which largely employ women) have collapsed, compounding the losses.
Such was the case for Carrie Funk, a restaurant industry veteran who worked as a consultant and general manager of a restaurant and bar in Los Angeles that opened in February 2020. behavior throughout the pandemic , she said. “We never had to shut down,” said Funk, 37. “They managed to stay open and have a really good year.”
In the meantime, she became pregnant and continued to work until she gave birth in January 2021. According to Funk, she was granted extended maternity leave with a combination of family leave and disability benefits. She was due to return to the restaurant in June, but said she was told the business needs had changed: “They needed me to return to a schedule of at least 65 hours per week on site.”
Before going on leave, she said, she was working 90 hours a week. But now she couldn’t afford a full-time nanny – which would be needed to care for her 6 month old baby, especially on nights and weekends that restaurants and bars require.
“There was no way I could physically do it,” she said. “So I ended up resigning, mostly against my will, and I was able to benefit from full federal unemployment and covid-19 unemployment.”
But while the pandemic has exacerbated and exposed the problem of women in the workforce, it did not create it, experts say.
“We compare ourselves to other peer countries – they continue to see these increases in the number of women in the workforce, for most of the past 20 years,” Gould said. “You look at these countries, and you think, what are they doing differently? “
According to Gould, many of these countries have better child care policies, parental leave, and paid sick leave. They are also more supportive of long-term care and home help, and they offer higher wages for this work.
Yet the latest data has caught many experts off guard, in part because of the pressure on schools to reopen for in-person learning, ostensibly freeing up childcare duties, from school to school. home or supervision, which fell disproportionately on mothers. In addition, in September, unemployment benefits in the event of a pandemic ended. Millions of Americans have lost some or all of their benefits, but workers have not filled all the positions in a tight labor market.
When Meagan O’Reilly was fired from her nonprofit job in February, she would have immediately looked for another job if she had had, say, two children. But she has six in a blended family, including four eighth grade students.
Her husband has a hard job and a salary that covers the cost of their living, she said, but she has had to manage the schedules and shifts of six children at four different schools learning online.
In 2020, she ran for city council in her town of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and won, and she was able to use her masters in public policy and work experience in a volatile year that has seen a lot of civil unrest. But O’Reilly, 44, earns less than before at $ 400 a month, and she just worked 15 hours a week at another nonprofit. But with the uncertainty of covid exposures and quarantines affecting her children, she doesn’t think she can work full time until the situation stabilizes.
She’s proud of the work she did last year, she said, but there is still so much uncertainty: “Did I save for retirement last year? Are we about to send six kids to college?
According to Emily Martin, vice president of education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, September is “a month of transition, as families move to a different schedule.” As she said, “People are reassessing what, where are we? And what can we expect? People who have thought about it, we’re almost there – I can just hold on until the next step, move on. to the next step – look around and say, ‘Actually, that’s not sustainable.’ “
The Great Revaluation is indisputable. In August, 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the workforce, left their jobs, according to data released Tuesday by the Department of Labor. In April, a record 4 million Americans resigned.
As the delta variant increased, many Americans saw their plans for the new school come to an end; there was yet another set of calculations to be made.
“It’s not shocking that this is a time when hundreds of thousands of women have concluded, ‘I have to find another take on what I’m doing,'” said Martin. “Whether it’s’ I can’t find another job that meets my needs right now ‘or’ I don’t feel safe going back to work ‘or’ I don’t feel like school will keep me at work. ‘”
Some women who have enough leeway to make employment choices are not rushing back to work because of how the pandemic has reallocated their values.
Angie Sy, a 31-year-old teacher at a public school in Orange County, California, was fired in June 2019 due to low student enrollment. Her husband is an aerospace engineer, so they can manage on just one income, and she is fortunate to have family nearby to help with childcare, she said. But these years of living around the coronavirus have led her to reassess her priorities.
When she was called back to work, she had just had a second child. She could have gone back to work, but with the new baby and a two-year-old, the new coronavirus protocols and the back-to-school adjustment for children, she chose to stay home.
“What I realized with the pandemic is you don’t know what’s going to happen to us the next day,” Sy said. “So I really want to savor this moment with my babies.”
But she is convinced that she will be able to return to work next year. She receives frequent calls from the district about open jobs, and she just turned down another one last week.
As for Funk, she has some savings, and she could work as a private chef. But, she said, it would disrupt the career path she had built. She recognizes her privilege over others in the service industry: she is white, has a college degree and has other options. Still, she said, she’s spent 20 years climbing the ladder in restaurants and doesn’t want to waste that expertise or have the kind of resume gap that could lower her future salary. There is also the physical and mental toll of the industry that she must revisit now that she is a mother.
“I can’t physically do this to my body anymore,” Funk said. “It was not a way of life that was sustainable.”
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Soo Youn is a Lily contributor. Previously, she worked at ABC. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, National Geographic, and the Guardian.
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This floor first appeared in The Lily of the Washington Post.
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