How women are disproportionately carrying the cost of COVID

A recent survey found roughly a quarter of women were considering reducing hours, switching to less demanding jobs, or leaving the workforce altogether. At least 2 million women have dropped out of the labor force since last year.


TRANSCRIPT

Judy Woodruff:

We want to look now at what the pandemic is doing to women and the distinct burdens they are facing.

A recent survey found roughly a quarter of women were considering reducing hours, switching to less demanding jobs or leaving the work force altogether. Two million women have dropped out of the labor force just in the last year.

Paul Solman has the Making Sense story, and as part of our Chasing the Dream series on poverty and opportunity.

Shannon Niemann:

The day that our school system announced that our children were going to be starting remote, I turned in my resignation.

Paul Solman:

Nurse and mother of three Shannon Niemann quit to watch the kids in August.

In October, retail worker and single mom of two Michelle Perez was let go.

Michelle Perez:

Because it was no longer convenient for them to actually accommodate the schedule that worked for me.

Paul Solman:

Gabriela Villagomez Morales, also single, worked at a day care center until it closed in March.

Gabriela Villagomez Morales:

If it wasn’t for my sister helping me out, I would probably be out in the street with my kids.

Paul Solman:

When travel to Maui halted, so too did Jessica Oyanagi’s tourist-dependent photography business.

Jessica Oyanagi:

It’s really hard at 40 years old to be at, like, unemployment, food stamps, living with my parents at this age at this time in my life.

Paul Solman:

These are just some of the faces of the so-called shecession.

Betsey Stevenson:

In the 2008 recession, people called it a man cession because it was men’s jobs that went first. That’s because we were losing jobs in construction and finance, places where men tend to dominate.

Paul Solman:

Economist Betsey Stevenson says the gender dimension of this recession is different.

Betsey Stevenson:

We lost jobs in retail, and leisure and hospitality, and health care services. And those are all jobs where women hold the majority of the jobs, and they actually got the majority of the layoffs.

Paul Solman:

After the Great Recession of ’08, the economy shifted away from male-dominated manufacturing to female-heavy services, says economist, mom and blogger Diane Lim.

Diane Lim:

People seem to get more pleasure out of experiences a lot more than buying things, like having a fancy car or buying a big house. And now all these really people-intensive jobs, those were exactly the jobs that got hammered.

Paul Solman:

It’s so interesting because, in stories I have done in the past, the safe jobs were the face-to-face jobs.

Diane Lim:

That’s right. So, all those things that were considered essential services were exactly the services that we were told, look, you can’t do that right now, because it’s not safe to be so close to other people.

Paul Solman:

Perhaps nobody knows the risk better than direct care workers, like single mom Catherine Namisango. In April, her manager told her to assist a COVID-positive patient.

Catherine Namisango:

And I think about it. And I say, you know, I don’t have any other job. I don’t have any other income. And my kids, they have to eat. They have to — I have to pay my rent. I have to pay my bills. So I have to do this job.

Paul Solman:

Did you get coronavirus?

Catherine Namisango:

Yes, I had coronavirus.

Paul Solman:

Did your kids get it too?

Catherine Namisango:

All of us, all of us, we were COVID-positive, because our house is small. We use the same bathroom, the same toilet, the same kitchen.

Paul Solman:

Women are being disproportionately hit in another way. Take Jessica Oyanagi, whose tourist-based business went bust.

JESSICA OYANAGI:

If I wanted to try to go find just like a traditional 40-hour-a-week job, that would be pretty much impossible.

Paul Solman:

Because she’s caring for her young daughters. As schools and day care centers across the country remain closed, mothers are forced to fill the care gap.

Jessica Oyanagi:

So, my husband is an essential worker. He’s a welder. So, he hasn’t lost his job. He’s continued to work throughout the pandemic. So, I mean, it’s a pretty black-and-white choice.

Paul Solman:

Shannon Niemann quit her dream job as a lactation nurse to tend to her school-age kids, while her husband managed his business.

Shannon Niemann:

I really felt like my job was a ministry. That’s how much I loved it. I mean, I cried. But my husband also has a responsibility to his 13 workers and all of their families.

Paul Solman:

According to the Census Bureau, women are three times more likely than men to have left their job because of child care during the pandemic.

Betsey Stevenson:

I think it’s amplifying the inherent bias not just in the economy, but in our households. If kids are relying on moms to make sure that they get out the door in the morning more than they are relying on dads, that’s a small gap.

But if the kids are relying on mom to get them all the way through the school day because they’re doing school from home, that’s a giant gap.

Paul Solman:

Economist Melissa Kearney tweeted a recent exchange with her children: “Why don’t any of you bother dad?” she asked. The response: “He’s not as useful.”

Moms are more than three times as likely as dads to do most of the work at home. It’s unpaid and thus not even counted in GDP. But consider the work women do that is counted.

Betsey Stevenson:

They get the majority of college degrees. They get the majority of advanced degrees. And not only that, but they’re coming at the top of their classes. You literally cannot have a V-shaped recovery if we don’t get the women back.

Paul Solman:

But the hardest-hit moms are the 15 million raising kids by themselves. After Gabriela Villagomez-Morales lost her day care job, she and her four kids moved in with her sister, where she’s been helping her kids with online school.

Gabriela Villagomez Morales:

My second-grader, I am sitting right next to her.

Paul Solman:

What would she what would she be doing if you weren’t sitting next to her?

Gabriela Villagomez Morales:

I feel like she would probably get into app, probably go to YouTube and play other games, and not focus on what she’s doing.

Paul Solman:

But if you get a job, then who takes care of the kids?

Gabriela Villagomez Morales:

I don’t think — I would have to find some — I don’t know. It’s hard.

Paul Solman:

Are you sort of just trying not to think about it?

Gabriela Villagomez Morales:

Yes, and get myself overwhelmed.

Paul Solman:

Single mom Michelle Perez worked retail for years. But with her kids at home doing virtual school, she couldn’t work the hours she used to. That’s why she was laid off.

Michelle Perez:

My son was supposed to start kindergarten. So, I could actually go back to school and start working more. But here we are. I’m at home full-time. I’m already struggling with trying to get them to learn. As much as I try, it’s not working.

Paul Solman:

So how are you getting by?

Michelle Perez:

My roommate, he has actually completely taken care of us for the most part through all of this. And that is very hard to kind of accept, because I kind of feel like I’m not contributing to my family at all, and then I’m putting him in this position that he also shouldn’t be in.

Paul Solman:

Women account for two-thirds of the job losses in retail. The economic implications, in Stevenson’s view?

Betsey Stevenson:

I think we are creating a system with worse inequality than we already have today. And we’re already in a pretty unequal society.

Paul Solman:

Michelle Perez and her kids have a long road ahead.

Michelle Perez:

How far back is this going to set us? This was supposed to be the time where I was able to really start working towards changing our lives. And now this is going to set me back for years.

Like, I’m — have no income coming in, but I’m in debt. And that’s — I don’t know how I’m going to change that.

Paul Solman:

For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Paul Solman.