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In The COVID Economy, Women Suffer More Job Losses Than Men

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Rebecca Travers lives in Casper, Wyo. Until late last year, the 42-year-old had been working at a non-profit that helps volunteer organizations across the state.

"That was my favorite part of the job was not only helping people, but helping organizations that help people," she said.

She said her job felt that much more meaningful during the pandemic, when so many in her community needed an extra hand.

"Service and people have always been really important to me," she said. "That was something that drove me to go back to school at the age of 39, and finish my degree because I wanted to help people."

Travers felt really secure in her job. But her organization wasn't immune from the ongoing economic downturn, and in mid-November she lost her job.

"I think the first two weeks after I got laid off were definitely the hardest," she said.

Travers said she felt a mix of emotions — anger, sadness, anxiety. She's since been working part time at a local grocery store. Plus she said it's helpful that her longtime partner and her 18-year-old son remain employed. But she's still trying to figure out what to do in the long term.

"It feels like I'm just starting over," she said.

Since the start of the pandemic, women have accounted for significantly more job losses than men — 5.4 million to 4.4 million, according to a CNN analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

December's job numbers showed the disparity in especially stark terms: Women suffered 156,000 job losses, while men gained 16,000. And women of color fared worse than their white counterparts.

Alia Gonzales, 25, is Latina and lost her job right at the beginning of the downturn and moved back in with her parents in Buffalo, Wyo.

"It was hard not to be hard on myself about it and not feel like I had done something wrong," she said.

Gonzales had been living in Denver, working as a studio manager at an architecture firm. She said it was the first job she'd landed that actually aligned with her arts degree and what she was interested in doing with her life. Then, in April, she got a call from a supervisor just before the lunch hour.

"I was officially furloughed until the end of April," she said. "And that's when they would decide if they still needed me or not."

They didn't. Gonzales spent most of the summer on unemployment to make ends meet.

"And I did apply to many jobs — many, many, many jobs — while I was waiting to find something," she said.

Latinas like Gonzalez have the highest unemployment rate at 9.1%, followed by Black women at 8.4%. White women have the lowest rate at 5.7%.

Elise Gould is with the Economic Policy Institute. She said the pandemic didn't necessarily create new problems for working women — it just revealed or magnified disparities that already existed.

"It really mattered whether or not you had the ability to work from home, right? So if you have a higher paying job, you're more likely to be able to work from home. If you're White, you're more likely to be able to work from home. So you're sheltered from not only the health risks, but the economic shock of job loss," she said.

Gould said we also know that the burden of many caretaking responsibilities falls on women disproportionately. So the fact that we now have lots of schooling happening at home is another difficulty.

"If those mothers have to physically go to work, it's an impossible choice. They have to stay home, particularly with their younger children," she said. "They don't have an option, so they've been pushed out of the labor force in that way."

The economic picture for women is a far cry from the beginning of 2020, part of a three-month stretch when women held more jobs than men in the U.S. economy. That was only the second time that's happened — ever.

How soon, or if, things turn around for women depend on a few things, Gould said, such as the pace of the vaccine rollout, which affects when millions of kids can go back to school. She also pointed to federal legislation.

"You know, what happens with policymakers across this country — but notably federal policymakers — and what other relief packages they put together, to not only provide additional unemployment insurance to those people who have lost their jobs, but also provide more state and local aid, to help in the recovery, and really to help people make ends meet through this time," Gould said.

That help could be on the way, with President Joe Biden proposing an ambitious $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

In the meantime, Alia Gonzales has started working as a temp for the United States Postal Service.

"For now, it's a good job," she said. "And it provides me health insurance."

Which she said was big on her list during a pandemic.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Maggie Mullen is a fifth generation Wyomingite, born and raised in Casper. She is currently a Masters candidate in American Studies and will defend her thesis on female body hair in contemporary American culture this May. Before graduate school, she earned her BA in English and French from the University of Wyoming. Maggie enjoys writing, cooking, her bicycle, swimming in rivers and lakes, and most any dog.
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