Women on the Front Lines

On the Front Lines of Economic Pain: March Jobs Report Foreshadows What’s to Come

Equity, Impact Lab, Jobs Report, TIME'S UP Impact Lab, Women on the Front Lines


Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a report on jobs for the month prior — data that will give 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 takes a look at the report and shares what the report tells us about the impact of COVID-19 and the associated economic toll on workers — especially women, women of color, and low-paid workers who are on the front lines of this crisis.

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

The March job report does not capture the full picture — but the picture it paints is already bleak.

On April 3, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their monthly jobs report. The March report does not fully capture our current reality because the data collected predates the waves of business and school closures that have since brought the United States to a halt. Even so, the picture it paints is already bleak.

The report shows that 701,000 people have lost their jobs, but the reality is far worse.

The data captured in the March report really only reflects the first half of the month, before social distancing measures became widespread and businesses and schools across the country closed their doors. When you take into account that approximately 10 million people applied for unemployment in the last two weeks,  the unemployment rate is actually even higher — more likely in the 10-15 percent range.

The most vulnerable workers in our economy — women, women of color, and low-paid workers, among others — will suffer the most.

We see this in the data —  the unemployment rate for white women is 3.6 percent, while Black women’s unemployment rate was 5.2 percent. Since the beginning of 2020, the unemployment rate for Hispanic or Latina women rose 36 percent compared to an increase of 22 percent for the general population.

Unemployment rates for women of color is higher than that of the broader population and the unemployment rate for Hispanic or Latina women is rising especially quickly. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Data series LNS14000029, LNS14000032, LNS14000035, and LNS14000000.

Job losses were particularly high in industries that disproportionately hire women.

About two-thirds of the job losses were in leisure and hospitality. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner, the vast majority of job losses in this sector came from restaurants and bars, and a significant proportion from the accommodation industry. Other hard-hit sectors include retail (-46,200 jobs), temporary health services (-49,500 jobs) and education and health services (-76,000 jobs). These numbers are likely to go up in next month’s jobs report, capturing the lag in retail closures that happened later in March.

Women aren’t just losing jobs — they’re also losing hours.

Workers in the leisure and hospitality sector lost 1.4 hours of work on average since the February jobs report. For women who are low-paid and don’t have savings to fall back on, the loss of wages due to scaled-back hours can be even more devastating. And this is just the tip of the iceberg — we’re likely to see these trends continue and spread across other sectors in the near future.

Workers in the leisure and hospitality sector saw a massive drop in hours in the March jobs report. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Data series CES4200000002, CES6500000002, CES7000000002.

The data will never capture the unpaid labor shouldered by women, as well as women who rely on the informal labor market.

With school closures across the country, women are taking on the double burden of caregiving and working in the labor market. Even in boom times, women are more likely to take care of children, the elderly, and others. Additionally, women are more likely to work in the informal labor market, which is not captured in the official jobs reports. This includes key demographics, such as some domestic workers, many of whom do not have access to critical employee protections like paid sick leave.

The unemployment rate you read about in the news only counts people who are actively searching for work.

As we get deeper into this crisis, we can’t lose sight of those who have stopped looking for work altogether, those who have shifted to part time work when they would rather have full time work, and those who are not actively searching for work but could start if work became available.

Leaders must act now to prevent long-lasting harm to workers.

It is crucial to remember that what we’re seeing reflected in the labor market is a rational response to an unprecedented health crisis. The steps we are taking right now to shut down the economy are necessary to keep people as safe and healthy as possible.

But that also means that we need to put in place policies to help workers who are suffering right now, so we can lessen the long-term economic damage to workers’ lives. That means:

Giving our front-line workers what they need. From doctors and nurses to cashiers and warehouse workers, people across the country are putting their own health and safety on the line to keep us all safe.

Investing in the women who keep things running — in the formal labor market and at home. Our policies need to center those who are most vulnerable in this crisis — low-paid women and women of color who are susceptible to losing their jobs and may find it difficult — if not impossible — to make ends meet in the coming months.

Recognizing that we have an opportunity to restructure our economy, so it works for all women — especially women of color. COVID-19 has laid bare what women around the country have known forever: that our policies don’t work for them. We need to take this opportunity to implement structural changes so that our economy and society works for women — especially women of color.