Women on the Front Lines
July Jobs Report: A Women’s Recession
Equity, Impact Lab, Jobs Report, Women on the Front Lines
On August 7, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their monthly jobs report for July, showing the U.S. economy gained 1.8 million jobs. Though this increase is positive news, simply focusing on these gains overshadows the bigger picture: the unemployment rate is still higher than it was during the peak of unemployment during the Great Recession.
To sum up: we have a long way to go before we are back to a healthy economy.
The jobs gained this month are only a small fraction of the 20.5 million jobs lost at the peak of unemployment in April; while the economy recovered roughly 7.3 million jobs between May and June, the United States is still down about 12.9 million jobs overall since February.
And we know that women in particular are struggling. Women have lost nearly seven million jobs since February, and the unemployment rate for women reached double digits for the first time since 1948. A recent survey from TIME’S UP Foundation illustrates the staggering consequences of inaction, especially for women of color and low-income workers: Roughly half of Latinx (51 percent) and Black (48 percent) women do not have enough money right now to pay for basic needs like food and housing.
Even as this jobs report shows that many Americans are continuing to struggle financially, these data were collected before Congress cut the incomes of 30 million Americans by letting additional unemployment benefits expire. COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continue to climb, and the economic strain that many Americans are feeling will only deepen as furloughs become permanent layoffs.
Temporary furloughs are becoming permanent layoffs.
The steady influx of unemployment insurance claims tells us that temporary furloughs are becoming permanent layoffs, leading to longer spells of unemployment. Historically, women have had a harder time bouncing back after economic downturns. Research and history shows that when women leave the labor force, the career costs may last for decades. Today, with women losing their jobs at record numbers and bearing the dual burdens of a difficult labor market and increasing caregiving responsibilities, there is the real chance that “ we may well be facing a generational wipeout of mothers’ careers.”
In addition, a large percentage of the jobs added back this month were part-time: the number of people who usually work in part-time jobs rose by 803,000, while the number of full-time workers barely budged.
The recession is hitting women, especially Black and Hispanic women, the hardest.
Though in past recessions, men suffered higher rates of unemployment and delayed recovery, the opposite is true in today’s economic downturn. Women’s unemployment still lags behind men’s this month, with one notable exception: Black male unemployment for those 20 and older still rests above 15 percent, higher than it has ever been for white people in this country.
Black women continued to see the slowest declines in unemployment, while Hispanic women hold the highest unemployment rate of the group. This parallels the results of TIME’S UP’s survey, which found that half of Latinx women have had their work hours cut back since the coronavirus hit. Only 25 percent of white men said the same.
At the same time, women continue to earn less than men: white women make 79 cents on the white male dollar, Black women 62 cents, Native American women 57 cents, and Latinx women 54 cents.
It’s time for Congress to put the needs of women front and center.
The pandemic and economic crisis has made it impossible to deny that gender inequality is hurting all of us.
Women are on the front lines in the workforce, risking their lives to provide essential services, from stocking grocery store shelves to medical care. Women are taking on the burden of caregiving responsibilities — uncompensated work that has been expanded by stay-at-home orders and school closures.
The moment we are in has laid bare the very real consequences of systemic inequities that have held women, and particularly Black and Latinx women, back for generations. As we look to rebuild, we must not only invest in immediate solutions, like extending unemployment insurance benefits, but also commit to long-term structural solutions to build a more just and inclusive future.