As schools across the country are back in session in largely remote or hybrid learning settings, coupled parents and single parents once again need to meet the education and care needs of their school-age children. Women – whether furloughed from their jobs or on telework status due to the pandemic – contributed an average of 12.8 hours per week to home-based teaching activities with children in late April.
As states reopen and jobs in sectors with high concentrations of women workers are returning, working mothers will see increased pressure while trying to balance work, childcare, and school schedules that are contingent on when and if the coronavirus spreads. And the situation may be dire for permanently displaced women – especially low-income workers – who need to prioritize housing and food security needs of their families above reentering the job market.
An inclusive economic recovery must prioritize investments in education and training tied to labor market demand – and the necessary support services – to connect displaced women to the upskilling needed to fully compete in the economy’s restructuring and expansion.
One story that emerged during the Great Recession was the disproportional economic impact on men, as job losses battered the manufacturing and construction sectors, which traditionally employ male-dominated occupations. The current recession is trending in the opposite direction, a phenomena not seen in economic downturns in the United States. When many state stay-at-home orders temporarily closed businesses in April 2020, women (age 20 and over) saw a peak unemployment rate at 15.5 percent, compared to 13.0 percent for men, on a seasonally adjusted basis. While unemployment rates for both men and women have trended downwards in recent months, the impact of this recession – and subsequent recovery – for women will be closely studied for years to come.
Here are some workforce trends experienced by women during this pandemic and recession:
We’re facing an unprecedented confluence of events that has resulted in a disproportionate impact on job loss among occupations that employ more women. This occupational segregation, particularly for women of color in lower earning positions, is an important racial equity lens to bring to skills investments. Some sectors where women are majority job holders have low potential for automation, while also lacking lack skill development and career advancement opportunities.
September is national Workforce Development Month, a recognition that the education, training, and career advancement of our workforce allows the United States to remain competitive in an international economy. This year, the need for skills investments is critical to helping those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and to jumpstart the halting recovery for women.
Skill policies that broaden the infrastructure talent pipeline by supporting workers’ success (BUILDS Act) and sector partnerships that center apprenticeship and other work-based learning strategies (PARTNERS Act) can help all workers, especially women, succeed in 21st century careers. And access to wrap-around services, including high-quality childcare, are essential for young mothers to fully participate in retraining opportunities.
Make your voice heard: investments in our public workforce system must uplift the voices of displaced women workers so they can be a full part of an inclusive economic recovery.