By now, we’re well aware of how much women have sacrificed since the pandemic started. But it bears repeating because things aren’t changing. No one has lost out more in the last year than women, especially if those women are caregivers in some capacity. Far too many of us have been forced to give up our livelihoods because we’re the default caregivers to our families. Thanks to new data from Oxfam, we know just how bad the COVID-19 pandemic has been on women’s jobs, and it’s worse than you think. By their estimate, COVID related job loss for women worldwide equals at least $800 billion dollars. Globally, women lost more than 64 million jobs in 2020. That is a 5 percent loss, which is a lot compared to the 3.9 percent loss for men.
“Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs. Instead of righting that wrong, governments treated women’s jobs as dispensable,” Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said in a press release.
“This conservative estimate doesn’t even include wages lost by the millions of women working in the informal economy —domestic workers, market vendors and garment workers— who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been cut drastically. COVID-19 has dealt a striking blow to recent gains for women in the workforce,” Bucher added.
Think about it. Who is bearing the brunt of overall responsibility since the COVID pandemic started? Women.
“The truth is that moms have bailed out governments and businesses through their unpaid labor caring for children and other family members during this crisis at the expense of their own wealth, health and wellbeing,” Mara Bolis, Associate Director of Women’s Economic Empowerment at Oxfam America, said in a press statement.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, women in the U.S. make up 64 percent of the 22.2 million people who work in the 40 lowest paying industries. The low wage jobs, identified by the NWLC as ones that pay less than $12 an hour include jobs like waitresses, cashiers, child-care workers, housekeepers, home health aides and hotel clerks. Globally, women make up about 70 percent of the health and social care workforce.
“Those employers who don’t offer paid sick or family leave have left us in an impossible position of deciding whether to care for our children or keep our jobs,” Bolis said.
Lack of childcare is without a doubt one of the biggest factors in women being pushed out of the workforce. When schools closed and went to virtual distance learning, moms had to be the ones to adapt their ability to work around their children’s school schedules. And those who relied on school for before and/or after school care were totally screwed. Working moms were used to juggling a million things at once, but now the rug was pulled right out from under us.
Having our kids home all the time became a huge roadblock for those working from home. Suddenly we found our weekdays revolving around fetching snacks, answering emails and trying to navigate things like Zooms and technical glitches. We were likely also balancing our needs and the kids’ needs with a partner’s needs as well. Even with two adults home, chances are, if Mom and Dad were working, Mom was still the default parent.
As usual, it was the mom who had to take responsibility for literally ever aspect of childcare, even while both parents were at home, working. Because, of course.
But a lot of parents didn’t (and still don’t) get the ability to work from home. Many of the industries that were considered “essential” have a high amount of women workers. For those with high contact jobs like retail workers or healthcare staff, they had to make some difficult decisions. Was keeping their jobs worth potentially bringing COVID home? What would happen if they got sick?
In the U.S., many of the women in essential fields like grocery stores, retail, food service and childcare are also women of color. At the beginning of this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released numbers showing that Latinx and Black women had 9.1 percent and 8.4 percent of job loss respectively in December 2020. For many of those women, it was the combination of working in lower paying fields and a lack of childcare options.
For many women, finding and maintaining child care was a challenge. Some were forced to quit their jobs to be home for their kids who were in virtual learning programs, or had their daycare centers closed down. But for others, that simply wasn’t an option. It’s important to remember that many childcare facilities are also run by women, many women of color, which only further impacts the ways women have been affected.
Because of lockdown restrictions, daycare centers were forced to reduce the amount of charges they could care for. An Intelligencer article stated, “an economic downturn coupled with restrictions on work and movement has put many child-care providers and centers out of business.” They had to make difficult decisions over who to prioritize in terms of care. Single parents who had to work clearly needed care the most, but essential workers posed a large risk. And there was certainly crossover. Now that children have returned to school, some of that childcare pressure may have been alleviated, but with children remaining unvaccinated, and with summer coming, childcare is likely to become a major issue again.
“For women in every country on every continent, along with losing income, unpaid care work has exploded. As care needs have spiked during the pandemic, women —the shock absorbers of our societies— have stepped in to fill the gap,” Bucher said.
In the U.S., while it’s still severely lacking when it comes to offering any sort of real relief to mothers, President Biden did make sure to include caregivers in his American Rescue Plan. So far, Biden has devoted $39 billion dollars to rebuilding childcare, saying his “plan makes substantial investments in the infrastructure of our care economy, starting by creating new and better jobs for caregiving workers.” And that’s a great start. Of course it barely scratches the surface, and is almost laughable compared to corporate bailouts last year or even the national defense budget. But it’s a start.
Another step in the right direction is the expansion of the Child Care Tax credit. As it stands for your 2020 taxes, you may be able to get the child and dependent care credit if paid for childcare while you worked or looked for work. For 2021, that will change, thanks to the American Rescue Plan. The biggest change is that it made the credit refundable for people who live in the U.S. at least half the year. Some of the other changes include an increase in the potential amount of credit and more options for paid expenses. As of right now, this will only apply for 2021 taxes, but people in the government are fighting to make the change permanent.
The world has a lot of work to do to make it a better place for women. Thankfully, COVID has forced the people in charge to really see everything we do to keep our countries running. It remains to be seen how and what will ultimately change, but it’s clear that we cannot continue to go the way we are now.