It’s Hurting Our Careers Way More than Men’s.
If you are a woman whose career was disrupted because of COVID-19, you are among millions facing the same issue. Has your job been eliminated? Now you must compete for jobs with many others in the same boat. If you still have a job and have been invited back to the workplace, are you worried about your – and your family’s health? Are you trying to figure out who will watch your school-age children if you return to work and their school buildings or daycare remain closed into the fall?
The job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic have hit women especially hard; more women than men lost their jobs from Feb. to May 2020—11.5 million vs. 9 million.
A 30-year business gone overnight
Women business owners are among those wondering how they will get by. Jodi Minsky-Gonzalez is an independent corporate travel agent from Allen, Texas who works on commission. Her business dried up completely beginning in March. “I’m devastated. The career I built since 1989 is now gone,” she said. She had clients across the U.S. and said most of her business involved setting up international travel.
Minsky-Gonzalez has been through downturns before. She said her business suffered after 9-11. “I built it back up gradually and last year was my best year ever. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do.” At age 59, she said she now depends on unemployment compensation and is trying to find a job. I know I’m not the only one, but it is hard.”
From best to worst unemployment rate
It is difficult to believe so much disruption has occurred in only a few months. The unemployment picture for women was drastically different only four months ago. In March 2020, Women’s History Month got off to a great start. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among women then was only 3.6 percent, a 65-year low. The gender gap between men and women in employment had nearly disappeared.
Just two months later, in May, the unemployment rate for women soared to 14.3 percent and came down slightly in June to 11.2 percent while for men the June figure stood at 10.2 percent.
A shift in the types of jobs mostly filled by women over the past 20 years has set up conditions for women to be hardest hit by changes caused by COVID-19 today. Between 2000 and 2019, 2.79 million office and administrative positions were eliminated across the U.S. The majority of those positions were held by women. New roles that began to be filled by women, such as retail and service occupations, hospitality and health care staffing, came with less job security, lower earnings potential and fewer opportunities for career advancement.
Teachers also impacted
Nicole Tibbetts is the mother of two children, ages 6 and 10. She is also the Director of Curriculum and Student Achievement for the 8,000-student East Brunswick Public School System in New Jersey. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted both her work and family life.
“Since March, things have been really crazy,” said Tibbetts. “We have been completely redesigning what instruction should look like since the first week in March to make sure that all of the students in our system are getting what they deserve educationally, including my own. It’s been a constant rearranging of curriculum, professional development for teachers, and communication with the community about what we’re planning. It has required very long hours every day, and as a result, I’ve had to sacrifice spending time with my children.”
Tibbetts expects many of the teachers in her district to not return to school immediately when buildings reopen. ““We surveyed our staff and about 20 percent of our teachers may not be able to come back, either because of their health or the health of people in their family, or because their children go to school in another district. If those school schedules don’t match up, or there’s no childcare option when their child is learning virtually, they don’t know how they’ll manage that.”
That childcare dilemma has already been faced in recent months by women with children whose jobs were deemed essential. How can they go to work if they have no one to watch the kids? As more workplaces open up, those women will have to seek safe childcare options if their employers are not allowing them to continue working from home.
Creative solutions and other resources
“School districts are looking at solutions,” said Tibbetts, “but other businesses should be stepping up, finding ways to offer their own childcare options so you have a safe place for your children when you go to work.” She adds that moms are finding ways to support each other, possibly arranging work schedules to share children, even if they’re keeping it within a very small network for health reasons.
Unemployment compensation has provided a lifeline for many women who lost their jobs or had their businesses decline due to COVID-19. However, the $600 additional weekly benefit under the CARES Act expired on July 31. There is currently no extension or replacement in place although members of Congress are discussing various proposals to extend help to those affected by the pandemic.
As with all other serious challenges throughout history, the coronavirus pandemic will one day no longer be a threat. Vaccines are being rapidly developed and researchers around the world are working on treatments. We need to support each other in the meantime and look ahead to the day when more-normal life will return.
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