Almost 1 million married women left the workforce last month in first ‘female recession’

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In the month of September, and coinciding with an unprecedented back-to-school season amid the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 1 million married women left the job market, a statistic from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that economists and labor advocates fear propels a “female recession.”

The coronavirus pandemic has upended work and home life, with parents adding “teaching” to their responsibilities as they have been thrust into new roles, whether it be homeschooling or overseeing remote learning. This new normal has created a pressure cooker situation for many parents but has been disproportionately affecting women, who are taking on the brunt of the extra responsibilities while still working.

In two-parent households, where both mother and father are employed, women were already providing up to 70% of childcare during work hours. A study from April authored by researchers from Northwestern University, University of California-San Diego and University of Mannheim predicted that women would have to devote up to an additional 12 hours a week on such tasks during the COVID-19 crisis. A Boston Consulting Group survey found in May that the number at that time was more like 15 hours, including chores, childcare and education.

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Mothers with young children had already been reducing their work hours four to five times more than fathers. But the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 949,000 married women left the job market altogether between August and September, compared to 786,000 married men.

“Women’s employment has taken an unprecedented hit in this recession, with economists fearing a lost generation of mothers who will be permanently scarred by the recession,” Michael Madowitz, an economist with Center for American Progress, said in a statement in response to the latest federal employment data figures.

Economists point out that this workforce shift will likely have a long-lasting effect on working moms as they could lose out on promotions and raises, and have a tough time re-entering the workforce with gaps on their resumes.

“We could have an entire generation of women who are hurt,” Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, told The New York Times. “They may spend a significant amount of time out of the work force, or their careers could just peter out in terms of promotions.”

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This compounds an already-existing wage gap as women earn 78 cents for every dollar paid to men. Black women make 64 cents and Latina make 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.

The 19th, a nonprofit and non-partisan news group reporting on gender, politics and policy, points out that female unemployment amid the pandemic has reached double digits for the first time since 1948 when the government started tracking women’s joblessness. Unemployment rates have been disproportionately affecting minority women, with the unemployment rate for Latinas at 15.3 percent in June. It was 14 percent for Black women. But for white men, it was only 9 percent.

The latest figures show that the unemployment rate in September for adult men was 7.4 percent compared to 7.7 percent for women. But, as the Center for American Progress points out, the September numbers don’t account for some more recent and large-scale furloughs and layoffs, including those made by United Airlines, Disney and Shell.

How has your own family been grappling with the added responsibilities amid COVID?

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Brittany Anas

Hi, I'm Brittany Anas (pronounced like the spice, anise ... see, that wasn't too embarrassing to say, now was it?) My professional writing career started when I was in elementary school and my grandma paid me $1 for each story I wrote for her. I'm a former newspaper reporter, with more than a decade of experience Hula-hooping at planning meetings and covering just about every beat from higher-education to crime to science for the Boulder Daily Camera and The Denver Post. Now, I'm a freelance writer, specializing in travel, health, food and adventure. I've contributed to publications including Men's Journal, Forbes, Women's Health, American Way, TripSavvy, Eat This, Not That!, Apartment Therapy, Denver Life Magazine, 5280, Livability, The Denver Post, Simplemost, USA Today Travel Tips, Make it Better, AAA publications, Reader's Digest, Discover Life and more. Learn More.