Over 40 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March. Though claims filed in the week ending on May 16 were the lowest since March 14, they were still over three times higher than the record of pre-pandemic weekly unemployment claims. It’s unclear how long the devastating economic effects of COVID-19 will last. Though some states are reopening, there are no guarantees that businesses will remain that way — an uptick of new COVID-19 cases could shut them down again. Experts say that the economic recovery could take years, and that some lost jobs simply won’t be coming back.
Though many Americans are feeling the financial effects of lockdowns, it’s women, particularly women of color, who are bearing the brunt of joblessness. Women made up 55% of layoffs in March and April, and women who are still employed are more likely to be working in dangerous, low-wage essential roles that offer little to no hazard pay and no paid sick leave. C. Nicole Mason, president of the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, has called the current economic fallout a “shecession” for how it disproportionately hurts women. And now, new data is revealing that women may have lowered prospects for finding new employment even when the economy begins to recover.
A recent analysis from LinkedIn shows that fewer millennial women are being hired than millennial men compared to several months ago. Overall, millennials now make up the largest proportion of job holders, and LinkedIn data shows that in the past several years, millennial women have been hired slightly less than millennial men when applying to jobs. But since the pandemic, the hiring gap between millennial men and women has grown larger, with millennial men taking up 1.5% more of available jobs. LinkedIn editor at large Caroline Fairchild, who reported on this worrying trend in mid-May, notes that the falling share of hires for millennial women isn’t limited to just a few industries. “The proportion of women being hired has suffered for almost every industry due to coronavirus,” she says. “However, we’re seeing certain industries being hit harder than others, like retail, which has seen the greatest drop, and healthcare. Surprisingly, hiring for women in finance has held stable.”
The same pattern isn’t occurring between men and women of other generations. LinkedIn has found that between mid-March to early May, women were also applying to fewer jobs, which explains in part the shrinking share of hires. But if women are facing more job loss than men, why are they applying to fewer jobs than them?
Fairchild believes it has a lot to do with who, in the age of quarantine, is taking on the majority of child care. Millennial women are now the age group most likely to get pregnant or have young children, and with many families sheltering at home for months at a time, working women have found another full-time job in child care during the pandemic. Surveys suggest that for women in heterosexual partnerships, the majority of homeschooling and other childcare has been left to them. It’s too much work, and is leading some women (with the means to do so) to consider quitting their jobs.
It’s just the most recent example of how the motherhood penalty is a barrier for women’s careers. Even when there isn’t a pandemic, women with children are incorrectly stereotyped as less committed and less competent, which has a measurable impact on their pay and how quickly they advance. “We do know from a past member survey that many women still don’t feel comfortable talking about their kids at work,” Fairchild told Refinery29. “More than one-third of working mothers who are back at work after a career break agree that they struggled to get hired after their break, and 61% say that it was challenging to re-enter the workforce.”
Fairchild wrote about how some women now are lying about their pregnancy in virtual interviews so that they’re not at a disadvantage in this ultra-competitive hiring market. This finding tracks with how companies, in times of financial austerity, tend to become more conservative and risk-averse.
The pandemic is shining a brighter light on how the uneven distribution of household labor can have serious consequences for women’s careers. With no federal law guaranteeing paid family leave and child care often being treated like an extra to sweeten the pot of a job offer, not a basic need, women in the U.S. may be wondering if they’ll have to stay home longer than men.
And it isn’t just about mothers currently working two jobs from home. COVID-19 is showing how the essential work of child care and other caregiving roles have not been given their appropriate value — roles that are disproportionately taken by women, often women of color, for extremely low wages. In the aftermath of this health crisis, the path to recovery seems to demand that we show the labor of caregiving the investment and pay it deserves.
“Like everything coronavirus-related, there is a lot that we don’t know,” says Fairchild. “But one thing is certain: How business leaders and workers respond to this new reality will have a big impact on the careers of mothers when we come out the other side of this.”