By Jill Schlesinger
A year of COVID-19 has devastated the US labor market. Despite recouping more than half of the 22 million jobs that vanished during the past twelve months–and a better-than-expected February report, the country still has 9.5 million fewer jobs (6.2%) than the pre-pandemic level a year ago.
Last month, the economy added 379,000, about twice the number that was expected, with leisure and hospitality accounting for 355,000 of those jobs, as parts of the country eased restrictions.
The unemployment rate ticked down by a tenth to 6.2 %, though the “real” unemployment rate is likely closer to 10% according to Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell. He gets to that number by adding in the millions who have dropped out of the labor force to care for children or aging relatives, due to COVID, and by correcting what is likely a misclassification due to the pandemic.
We recently celebrated Women’s History Month, the news is not great for women, who have seen more job losses than men, since the start of the pandemic. C. Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research coined the phrase “shecession,” which is defined as “an economic downturn where job and income losses are affecting women more than men.”
While past recessions have tended to impact men more than women, the pandemic recession has been a double whammy for women: they hold a disproportionate number of jobs in many of the hardest hit service sectors of the economy, and they provide the primary care for young children, who were forced into online schooling, and also for aging relatives, many of whom needed assistance for various tasks amid COVID-19.
A staggering 2.3 million women have left the labor force since February of last year, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
This recession has turned the Dolly Parton hit on its head: instead of women working 9 to 5, they’re working 5 (am) to 9 (pm)…and not getting any extra pay for those additional hours. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that “a larger share of women than men (ages 25 to 54) lost a job, were laid off, were asked not to work any hours while still being paid, had hours reduced, or took unpaid leave since March…mothers with young children decreased their work hours four to five times more than fathers.”
Additionally, women are leaving the labor force in droves because they provide close to 70% of childcare in most households and also provide the majority of informal caregiving for their aging relatives.
In February of last year, before the pandemic showed up in the BLS statistics, the Labor Force Participation rate for women stood at 57.8. Twelve months later, it is 55.8, up from the pandemic low of 54.6, but back at levels last seen in the 1980’s. (The high point was in the late 1990’s into 2000, when the rate nudged above 60.)
Many women have opted to give up their jobs because their spouses earned more than they did — and the math made sense.
Of course, that math is crazymaking, because it is a vicious cycle: according to the most recent Census Bureau data from 2018, a woman working full time earned about 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The numbers look worse for women of color: Black women earn 66 % and Hispanic women earn 58% of what men earn in those racial categories.
The pandemic shecession is expanding the wage gap across all categories – I can only hope that at this time next year, we are talking about reversing that trend.
Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, she welcomes comments and questions at [email protected] Check her website at www.jillonmoney.com.