April Jobs Report: Women Are Bearing the Brunt of the Economic Crisis

Equity, Impact Lab, Private Sector, Public Policy, Women on the Front Lines


Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a report on jobs for the prior month — data that gives us a good measure of what is going on for women in today’s rapidly changing economy.

On a monthly basis, the TIME’S UP Impact Lab reviews the report and analyzes the impact of COVID-19 on women, women of color, and low-paid workers who are on the front lines of this health and economic crisis.

Read TIME’S UP’s insights below and learn more about women on the front lines of the recession here.

The U.S. is facing the biggest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression – and women are bearing the brunt of it.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their monthly jobs report, the first to fully capture the economic impact of the widespread business and school closures that started in earnest in March. It is hard to overstate the devastating picture this jobs report paints of the U.S. labor market, especially for women.

Of the 20.5 million people who lost their jobs in April, more than half were women.

By way of comparison, the previous record for worst job losses was in September 1945, when the economy shed 1.9 million jobs. The unemployment rate, which reached 14.7 percent, is at its highest level on record, and the fraction of Americans with a job is at its lowest on record. (Data collection started in 1939.)

Industries dominated by women workers are leading in job losses and lost hours.

Today’s jobs report saw staggering job losses, particularly in sectors that disproportionately employ women. Most striking were losses in leisure and hospitality, which lost 7.6 million jobs. Other sectors that employ disproportionate numbers of women also saw heavy job losses: retail trade lost 2.1 million jobs and education and health services lost 2.5 million jobs. Public sector employment dropped by nearly 1 million jobs — reflecting school closures. As we see hours reduced and widespread layoffs, women of color and low-paid workers are bearing the brunt of the economic pain.

Broader trends suggest that this downturn will be severe and long-lasting. The April report saw a massive increase in involuntary part-time employment — workers going part-time even though they would rather work full time. While the majority of the layoffs reported this month were labelled as temporary, there are indications that they could become permanent.

Women are employed in sectors that are on the leading edge of job losses. These sectors took a large hit in March, but the job losses this month are unfathomably worse. Women hold at least 50 percent of all the jobs in these industries, with the exception of retail, where women comprise 47.6 percent of the workforce. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

More than half of the workforce in leisure and hospitality, where the average hourly wage is $16.80, and nearly half of retail workers, which makes $20.11 an hour on average, are women. As a result, this pandemic threatens to further undermine women’s economic stability, particularly for women of color: Black and Latinx women are overrepresented in industries that pay little and have been hardest hit by this economic crisis.

Even women who are still employed face high risks by simply going to work: women make up more than half of essential workers on the front lines, putting them at higher risk of contracting the virus or spreading it to others. And many shoulder additional caregiving and childcare responsibilities at home — but lack adequate access to child care, paid leave, and other key structural supports.

Leisure and Hospitality saw a massive slide in hours this month and last month, while Education and Health Services and Retail Trade also declined. All of these industries disproportionately employ women, which means that women have fewer hours available to them. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Data series CES4200000002, CES6500000002, CES7000000002.

This unemployment crisis is occurring on top of longstanding inequities – fueled by racism, sexism, and other structural barriers – that have harmed women of color for decades.

We are witnessing the consequences of longstanding and often intersecting gender, racial, and economic inequity, as well as a systemic failure to value women at work and to build meaningful structural support for women workers, particularly the most vulnerable. This places all of us at risk.

For example, unemployment rates for women of color are consistently higher than the headline numbers, even in boom times. This is driven in part by a gender and racial wealth gap, which means that in addition to having lower earnings, women of color are less likely to have savings to fall back on during an economic downturn. As a result, women of color have historically had a harder time recovering from economic downturns: During the recovery from the Great Recession, black women had higher rates of unemployment and longer spells of unemployment than white women.

Unemployment rates shot up this month, but the overall trend of higher unemployment rates for women of color held. While aggregate unemployment is 14.7 percent, the unemployment rates for white women, Black women and Hispanic of Latina women are 15 percent, 16.4 percent and 20.2 percent respectively. Shading indicates recession. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Data series LNS14000029, LNS14000032, LNS14000035, and LNS14000000.

A crisis of this magnitude demands permanent and inclusive solutions that center on the most vulnerable in our economy.

We are now seeing the impossible choices that increasing numbers of people around the country are now facing – between keeping a job and feeling safe at work, between putting food on the table and caring for a sick parent or child – tradeoffs that women have been making for generations.

Congress must act to protect all workers and their families from the devastating consequences of this pandemic. And private sector leaders must take similar steps to ensure the safety and dignity of their workers, including pay transparency, flexible work hours, and other policies to support women in the workplace.

We have an essential responsibility to build a better future for women at work and chart a path through this pandemic that leads to an economy and society that are more resilient and just.