The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a disproportionate financial blow to women, saddling them with a larger share of pandemic-related job losses and career-endangering child care responsibilities.
For one thing, women’s jobs are more vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis than men’s occupations. Women make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of job losses as of May 2020, according to McKinsey & Company research.
The U.S. unemployment rate for adult women in September was 7.7% compared with the 7.4% rate for men. And while that gap has narrowed since its widest in the spring, it’s important to note that women are exiting the labor force in droves. In September, of the more than 1 million workers age 20 and older who dropped out of the workforce, 80% of them were women, according to analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Women of color are having an even tougher time. Of those women leaving the workforce, 324,000 were Latina and 58,000 were Black women.
And while men are certainly also feeling the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the economic hardships women are experiencing have led some to dub this moment a “she-cession.”
“Women are getting hit harder on a whole range of fronts, and particularly women of color,” says Melissa Boteach, vice president for income security and child care/early learning at the National Women’s Law Center.
Plus, when the economy starts to rebound, some experts worry that women will still be left out and their economic losses will be felt years into the future.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep gaps in our economic and social infrastructure that have resulted from decades of undervaluing the work that women and people of color do and underinvesting in the supports that families with low and moderate incomes need,” says an April report from the National Women’s Law Center.
If you’re a woman who is experiencing joblessness or wage loss during the pandemic, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Here’s why women are hit hardest by pandemic-related financial hardships – and a few strategies women can use to stay solvent.
Why Women Are Experiencing Financial Hardships During the Coronavirus Pandemic
There are a range of reasons women are experiencing outsized financial repercussions during the COVID-19 pandemic. But generally, it’s a triple whammy of child care responsibilities, pay inequality and the kinds of jobs in which women are overrepresented.
First, mothers in the workforce already tend to work a “double shift” at home, caring for children and household tasks after their paid workday ends, according to the 2020 “Women in the Workplace” study from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org.
But COVID-19 has removed the supports, such as daycare and school, that made this juggling act sustainable for many women. This stress has contributed to 1 in 4 women contemplating reducing their workload or leaving the workforce altogether, according to “Women in the Workplace.”
Additionally, women have historically been paid less for their work. In 2019, women made just 82 cents for every dollar a man made, according to the nonprofit American Association of University Women. The gender pay gap is wider for women of color – Black women made 63 cents for every dollar of white, non-Hispanic men’s wages and Latinas made 55 cents. “They suffer not only a gender wage gap, but a racial wage gap,” Boteach says.
While women make up just under half of the U.S. workforce, they represent nearly two-thirds of workers in the 40 lowest-paying jobs, according to National Women’s Law Center.
Those jobs, which include gigs in food service, cleaning and child care, also tend to be the ones that have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Women in these jobs may be on the front lines, risking their health to keep the economy humming, but they may also be in fields such as hospitality that have been shut down by the pandemic. Either way, they’re often lacking good pay and robust safety nets.
What Can Women Do to Protect Their Finances During Coronavirus?
Reducing expenses, tapping public and private relief programs and prioritizing housing, food and medical care are the first steps women can take to protect their financial health.
And while these strategies may help lessen some of the economic fallout, keep in mind that COVID’s harsh financial impact on women is not an individual issue. Generally, bigger fixes will come from policy changes, a new stimulus package or the end of the pandemic through something like the introduction of a vaccine, experts say.
“The problem is it’s not an individual failing, it’s a societal failing, it’s a policy failing,” says Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank based in the District of Columbia.
“The job losses are particularly difficult for workers and their families who don’t have other resources to draw on,” Gould says.
That said, reducing expenses and taking advantage of any relief program available to you can help keep you afloat as the pandemic rages on. Here are some strategies to use.
Reduce monthly bill payments in any way you can. To stretch your budget, negotiate or reevaluate monthly expenses. Take advantage of any deferred or reduced payment options offered by your lenders or service providers.
One strategy is to call your lenders, credit card issuers, utility companies and any other service provider to discuss relief options. In some cases, they’re required to by state or federal legislation to work with you. Others are choosing to offer relief programs, knowing that this is a tough time for many folks.
If your financial situation isn’t totally dire – for example, if your spouse remains employed – a home mortgage refinance can reduce your monthly mortgage payments. “It is a good way to potentially save a few hundred dollars a month,” says Maggie Germano, a financial coach for women based in the District of Columbia.
Additionally, you may choose to pause retirement contributions and other payments to keep as much money as possible in your bank account while you deal with financial uncertainty. Just make sure you have a plan to restart contributions if you return to the workforce or when the immediate threat of job loss passes.
Evaluate federal, state and community benefits. While the $600 unemployment boost has expired, the unemployment insurance program may still provide necessary support. Eligibility was expanded during the pandemic, so don’t assume you won’t qualify if you didn’t in the past. Your state will administer the program, so check with its benefits portal to start your application.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called food stamps, can provide essential calories for individuals and families.
Take a pause. For women trying to balance work with caretaking responsibilities without help, the juggling act can feel unsustainable.
But before you step out of the labor force, consider any creative solutions, depending on your job and support systems. Can you reduce hours instead of dropping out entirely? Are there resources available in your community, neighborhood or workplace?
This can be easier said than done, but take a pause, evaluate your decisions, then make the right one for your family. “Try not to make any irreversible decisions during times like this if possible,” Germano says.
In general, none of these strategies are a cure-all. But they’re a start.
And there’s some small comfort. The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on the supports women – and all workers – need to achieve equality in the workplace, including flexible work options and access to child care. Put pressure on politicians and employers to prioritize these issues, even after the coronavirus fades. “Fight for that flexibility in the workplace,” Gould says.