COVID-19 and Women in the Workforce

The number of women leaving the workforce in the US continues to increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession. The state of women in the US workforce and how it has been impacted by the pandemic has been described in the following brief. In our other research, discover how U.S. federal and state governments are supporting employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Number of Women Leaving the Workforce

  • According to Time, between February and May, 11.5 million women in the United States lost their jobs compared to 9 million men.
  • The first female recession in the United States deepened in September 2020. The number of women who left the labor force was more compared to the total number of jobs the United States added in September. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between the months of August and September, the job market added about 661,000 jobs.
  • During the same period, approximately 865,000 women left the workforce compared to 216,000 men. Retail and hospitality are sectors where women are the majority of the workforce. These two sectors were the most affected by COVID-19. In addition, the current dissolution of the child care industry has seen many working mothers losing jobs.
  • In 2019, women held more than half of all payroll jobs. However, in 2020, they make up 49.7% of the workforce.
  • Furthermore, many women in 2020 left their jobs in order to cater to the needs of their children. According to a study by Lean In and McKinsey & Company, “That burden has continued to fall on working mothers more than fathers in heterosexual relationships, who are more than three times as likely to be responsible for the majority of the housework and childcare during the pandemic.”

How Women Are Leaving the Workforce

  • Women, especially women of color, have been negatively affected by the pandemic and have a high likelihood of being furloughed or laid off during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • It is noteworthy that more women are leaving the workforce when compared to men. Five years ago, the number of men and women who left the workforce was almost similar.
  • According to McKinsey and Company, “one in four women are considering reducing work hours, moving to part-time roles, switching to less demanding jobs, taking leaves of absence from work, are leaving the workforce altogether.” Since the pandemic, about two million women are considering leaving the workforce or taking a leave of absence.

Whether Most Are Mothers

  • Working mothers are facing significant challenges as a result of COVID-19 because they have to juggle between childcare, which involves teaching and helping out with online classes, and work.
  • Mothers experience constant bias in the workplace. There is a false belief that mothers cannot be truly committed in both work and family and, therefore, are less invested compared to women without children and fathers.
  • Considering the many challenges mothers are experience both at home and at work, many of them are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers. A majority of mothers who are considering these options note that childcare responsibilities are a major reason.

How Data Changes for Women of Color

  • Out of all the women who left the workforce last month, 58,000 were Black women and 324,000 were Latinas.
  • Unemployment decreased for most groups in September with the numbers being 7.7% for women, which is a reduction from 15.5% in April. However, Black and Latina women continued to have double digit numbers with Black women at 11.1% and Latina women at 11%. Unemployment for Latina women increased from 10.5% in August.
  • White women and men have seen approximately 60% of the jobs lost this year come back. However, only 39% of job losses for Black women have been regained.
  • Compared to other women in the US, Latina women are more likely to be concerned about furloughs and layoffs.

Why Women are Leaving the Workforce

  • The pressures of the coronavirus pandemic have led many employees, especially women, to consider leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers.
  • Some of the factors that contribute to women leaving the workforce include lack of flexibility at work and feeling the need to always be available at work.
  • Our other research gives insights into reasons women are leaving the workforce amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • Other reasons why women are leaving the workplace include caregiving burdens and housework as a result of COVID-19. In addition, some women are concerned that their performance is negatively judged primarily due to their caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, mothers have a high likelihood of worrying that their performance is negatively judged because of the responsibilities they have at home.
  • Also, discomfort or difficulties in sharing the challenges they are facing with managers or teammates contribute to women leaving the workforce during the pandemic.
  • Women are also leaving the workforce because of “feeling blindsided by decisions that affect their day-to-day work.” Additionally, some employees feel like they are incapable fully committing to their jobs because of the pandemic.
  • Women in senior positions have a high likelihood than men of feeling under pressure to perform more than others. They are 1.5 times more likely to consider leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19. Approximately 3 in 4 senior-level women cite burnout as a primary reason for leaving the workplace.

How the Data Changes for Women of Color

  • Black women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. They are twice more likely compared to other women overall to lose a loved one because of COVID-19.
  • Since the start of the pandemic, Black women have a higher likelihood compared to other employees of thinking about leaving the workforce due to concerns over their safety and health.
  • Black women are more likely than men and women overall to feel like they are unable to bring “their whole selves to work.” According to McKinsey & Company, “Black women are less likely to feel supported at work during COVID-19.”
  • Black and Latina mothers are shouldering heavier burdens compared to white mothers. Many of them are the sole breadwinners of their families and have spouses that work outside the home during the pandemic. In addition, they perform more tasks at home.
  • “Latina mothers are 1.6 times more likely than white mothers to be responsible for all childcare and housework, and Black mothers are twice as likely to be handling all this for their families.” Consequently, Black and Latina mothers are more likely to experience burnouts at work.

Impact of Women Leaving the Workforce on the Economy

  • The exodus of women leaving the workforce will have a negative impact on economic growth in the US.
  • Women bring important skills to the workforce and drive different kinds of innovation. In addition, companies that are diverse perform better than their competitors. In most cases, companies that have heterogeneity have better balance sheets compared to their competitors.
  • According to an extensive 19-year study that analyzed 215 Fortune 500 companies, there is a strong correlation between organizations that employ women executives and their profitability. Hiring women for such positions have resulted in 18-69% boosts for Fortune 500 companies that have the best records when it comes to promoting women.
  • Before the pandemic and the exodus, women’s pay was gradually rising and had a significant impact on economic growth. However, during the current recession, there is a probability that the progress will be lost and have adverse impacts on the economy.

Impact of Women Leaving the Workforce on the Advancement of Women

  • Over the years, gender pay equity has been advancing over the years. However, due to the exodus, the progress will stall or fall backwards.
  • In addition, the number of women appointed for C-suite roles could also decrease, therefore, affecting the women who miss out on these jobs.
  • According to an economist at Wells Fargo, the economy is going to eventually bring back jobs in female-dominated industries especially healthcare. Looking at the demographics of the US, there is always going to be a need for more healthcare, which is a female-dominated industry.
  • If women feel forced to leave their jobs as a result of the pandemic and recession, the US will end up with fewer women in leadership. Therefore, the progress that the job market has seen in the past six years will be erased.
  • According to MarketWatch, it is going to be challenging for women to reenter the workforce if they lose their jobs.

Impact of Women Leaving the Workforce on their Mental Health

  • According to McKinsey&Company and Lean In, mental health is one of the biggest challenges for employees during the pandemic.
  • A survey by Total Brain revealed that between February and July, depression levels among working women increased by 83% compared to 36% for men.
  • In addition, there was a 52% increase when it came to anxiety levels for working women. The anxiety levels for men increased by 29%.
  • A major reason why women are experiencing more mental issues is because they are the primary caregivers of their children and COVID-19 has resulted in them taking care of the children while struggling to remain fully committed at work.
  • According to a study by CARE, 27% of women noted that they experienced increased challenges linked to mental illness compared to 10% of men.
  • A survey by Time’s Up revealed that 45% of the women interviewed noted that they felt depressed and hopeless compared to 33% of men. In addition, women had a higher likelihood of being anxious about their family members compared to men by a 10-point margin.
  • People of color have experienced higher rates of mental health issues even before COVID-19. However, the stresses linked to COVID-19 have worsened these disparities.
  • On the other hand, compared to women overall, LGBTQ+ women are more likely than other employees to cite mental health as a major challenge during the pandemic.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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