Women, on the front lines of coronavirus, are at high economic risk

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Up and down the class spectrum, women are getting hit particularly hard from the economic fallout of Covid-19. The industries almost entirely shut down by the virus are disproportionately staffed by women. They hold 53% of restaurant and hotel and accommodation jobs, sectors already seeing layoffs and reduced hours because of social distancing directives. They’re the vast majority of teachers and daycare workers many of whom have been sent home or face impending closures. And they’re the working moms balancing workdays with virtual teaching and increased child-care duties.

Women also hold many of the jobs considered vital during this national emergency, meaning they’re being asked to stay on the front lines longer, risking their health and safety.

Because of the gender pay gap, women in the U.S. are less prepared to weather a financial blow than men. Their median weekly earnings for full time workers are 18.9% less than men’s, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. They’re also less likely to have savings and money put away for retirement.

Maria Sanchez, who works in food preparation for LSG Sky Chefs at the Miami International Airport, was told her hours will be cut in the coming weeks. “I understand this is a national emergency, but if people don’t come to work, how are they going to pay their bills?” she said.

In the meantime, if she catches coronavirus, she only has four days of paid sick leave and 80 hours of vacation a year, time she also uses to take care of her grandson when he’s out sick from school. “We’re very nervous because we’re at the airport,” she said. Almost half of working women in the private sector have no access to paid sick leave, according to a 2013 study by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Up until coronavirus shook the global economy, women had been leading the country’s economic expansion. Their prime-age labor force participation rate was outpacing men’s, and for the first time ever in December, women displaced men as the largest share of total jobs. That helped drive the unemployment rate to a half-century low of 3.5% last month.

That expansion was led by women both joining male-dominated industries and increasing their presence in education and health services jobs, two fields currently on the front lines of combating the Covid-19 illness.

Teachers, while not in school, will continue to provide some virtual learning. Meanwhile, daycare centers in some places are still offering a vital service to essential workers — that is, if they can stay open.

That, of course, will mean the workers with essential jobs will have nowhere to take their kids. “We have a lot of families who are one paycheck away from losing their homes or losing their cars,” Starks said. “So if we closed and that child didn't have a place to go for care, that impacts that person being able to go to work and that impacts their entire family.”

Bloomberg News
Gender issues Health Care Issues Public health Economic indicators