American Women Lost Over 5 Million Jobs Last Year. How Will They Ever Recover?

Photo: Hilary Swift/AP/Shutterstock.
Today, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), along with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) are sending a letter to the White House urging the need for targeted policies addressing women's job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Refinery29 can exclusively report.
The letter, addressed to Brian Deese, Director of the National Economic Council, highlights the disproportionate economic impact that women, particularly women of color, have faced in this recession. "The coronavirus pandemic has erased some of the hard-fought gains women made in recent decades and poses long-term challenges to women's economic security," the letter reads. "While job totals are down across the board since the pandemic began in early 2020, women have lost nearly one million more jobs than men during this time — with job losses disproportionately impacting Black and Latina women. The most recent monthly data shows an even greater divergence between job loss rates for working men and women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American economy shed 140,000 jobs in December 2020, with women accounting for 156,000 net jobs lost, compared to a net increase of 16,000 jobs for men."
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Women experienced heavier job losses since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, and the gap has continued to widen as recovery has been slow. In September, four times as many women dropped out of the workforce as men. Now, according to the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), there are roughly 2.1 million fewer women participating in the labor force than there were in February 2020.
While the overall unemployment rate for women over 20 years of age was 6.3% in December (compared to around 3% pre-pandemic), for Black women, it's 8.4% and for Latinx women, it's 9.1%. What's more, the rates of unemployed women who've been unable to find a new job for longer than six months — what's called long-term unemployment — are staggeringly high, reaching 44% for Asian women 16 years of age and over. Men's overall unemployment rate in December was 5.8%.
While women have suffered higher job losses in practically every industry, there are some sectors that are women-dominated — such as retail and hospitality — where their job losses have been especially pronounced. In government, according to NWLC calculations, women accounted for over 90% of job losses in December. It's also worth noting that those who have dropped out of the labor force and are no longer actively seeking work are not counted in official Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment data. 
The senators' letter also underscores the critical lack of affordable child care and paid family leave that has exacerbated women's job loss. "Many working mothers have also had to cut back their work hours or leave their jobs altogether to take on increased responsibilities as caregivers due to school closures," the letter notes. "We look forward to working with you to make progress in addressing a number of structural and long-standing policy issues that have historically undermined women's ability to work — including challenges in accessing affordable child care, the lack of a national paid leave policy, and ongoing gender pay disparities."
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The letter goes on to praise the Biden administration's proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, called the American Rescue Plan, which currently includes at least 14 additional weeks of paid family and sick leave, as well as tax credits for those with children and a much-discussed $1,400 direct stimulus payment. Lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have argued, however, that Congress needs to go further, providing $2,000 monthly payments in light of the many months Americans have gone without aid.
In addition to the appointment of Deese as director of the National Economic Council, President Biden's other key economic appointments include Boston mayor Marty Walsh as labor secretary and Cecilia Rouse as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
"Without significant focus and attention to women's workforce issues at the federal level, the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on women threatens to harm our nation's overall recovery and reverse decades of progress," the letter's final paragraph states. The full letter can be read here.
A one-size-fits-all plan to heal the economy is not enough. For a recession that has hit women and BIPOC the hardest, we need policies that specifically address women and BIPOC.

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