COVID-19 will have lasting impacts on the gender pay and wealth gaps
By Stephanie Odiase, Julie Kohler, and Jessica Forden
The impact of the pandemic on working women has been profound: women’s labor force participation rates have dropped to historic levels. Before the pandemic began, women’s labor force participation rates had not been this low since 1988. As of August 2021, there were almost 3 million women who had lost jobs since February 2020 and had not found new employment. Focusing on factors that will help women return to paid work after losing their jobs or being pushed out of the labor force remains crucial; however, employment alone will not address the underlying inequities that have made the U.S. economy so fragile.
Even when women are employed, gender pay and wealth gaps disadvantage women across the board.
Even when women are employed, gender pay and wealth gaps disadvantage women across the board. When those changes are coupled with the racial pay and wealth gaps, women of color are particularly harmed. Although women’s median earnings rose slightly over the last two decades (in contrast to men’s, which stagnated over the same period), women still experienced significant pay disparities from men.
As of September 2021, women are paid 83 cents for every dollar paid to a man. For some women of color*, the gap is even larger. Latinx women are paid 57 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men; Black women are paid 64 cents; and Asian women are paid 101 cents**. Although such figures reveal the interplay between race and gender, they still obscure significant variations within groups, including large disparities in pay among different groups of Asian and Pacific Islander women.
What Can You Do?
Women are paid less than men in almost every occupation, but what further disadvantages women economically is the fact that women — and especially BIPOC women — are concentrated in low-paid professions, including many with few or poor benefits and difficult or dangerous working conditions. The economic value assigned to jobs is neither innate nor impartial. Longitudinal studies of industry pay trends demonstrate that as greater numbers of women move into professions, their pay declines. Many professions that went from being majority men to women in the last half of the 20th century saw commensurate reductions in median hourly pay. In contrast, professions that went from being majority women to majority men experienced an increase in pay and prestige. Today, more than half of the gender wage gap can be accounted for by the different industries and occupations in which women and men work.
The COVID-19 recession could further exacerbate pay inequality by gender and race. Although the overall gender pay gap narrowed slightly from 2019 to 2020 (from 81.5 to 82.3 cents per dollar paid to men), this “gain” was due to the disproportionate loss of jobs in the low-paid service sector — jobs that are much more likely to be held by Black and Latinx women. After the pandemic, some economists predict that the gender pay gap will widen by five percentage points, a regression with serious potential repercussions, especially for the most socioeconomically vulnerable women. We can’t allow this to happen.
With COVID-19 exacerbating economic precarity along intersectional lines, it’s time to implement structural solutions that appropriately measure and address this issue.
With COVID-19 exacerbating economic precarity along intersectional lines, it’s time to implement structural solutions that appropriately measure and address this issue. Tackling the gender wealth gap in all of its forms isn’t only important for women — it’s an essential step in rebuilding our economy and must be a focal point in recovery efforts.
In response, TIME’S UP Foundation has issued a call for proposals to better understand how COVID-19 has affected women’s economic security and well-being by widening the gender wealth gap. We are particularly interested in proposals that examine the structural underpinnings of the wealth gap, rather than individual factors, and how inclusive policy interventions can provide solutions. Click here to learn more about our research grantmaking program and our quest to fill data gaps.
This post is a modified excerpt from “Women’s Work: Key Policies and Paradigms for an Inclusive Post-Pandemic Economy,” by Julie Kohler, Stephanie Odiase, and Jessica Forden.
*For Native American, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander women, wage gap data are not currently available for 2020. Due to COVID-19, the American Community Survey (the source used to calculate wage gap data) experienced data collection interruptions and high non-response rates. The U.S. Census Bureau is expected to release experimental estimates later this year.
**These statistics represent only those who worked full time and year round in 2020. Because of pandemic-induced job losses, especially among low-paid workers, women who remained employed often had higher earnings than those who lost full-time work and were excluded from the sample. This gives the appearance of a closing wage gap that may not reflect the reality of women workers.