What A Recession Could Mean for Women’s Unemployment (#GotBitcoin?)
How would female job hunters fare in the next recession? Likely better than men, if history is any indication. What A Recession Could Mean for Women’s Unemployment
While the unemployment rate for women has moved in tandem with that of men since the 1980s, there is one notable exception—during recessions. When the economy contracts, joblessness spikes higher among men than women.
The recent downturn offered the latest glimpse of this phenomenon. The male rate hit a high of 11.1% in 2009, well above the female peak of 9.0% in 2010.
This gap reflects the gender concentrations in different industries and occupations, economists say.
“Women are more likely to be in education and health…you don’t fire all teachers…and doctors during a recession,” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
Male workers, meantime, hold disproportionate shares of the jobs in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, which are typically hard-hit by recessions.
As employment in these sectors has picked up in recent years, the gap between women’s and men’s unemployment rates has nearly disappeared. The female rate fell to 3.6% in September—matching the May figure for the lowest since 1953—just slightly below the male rate of 3.7%.
Ja’Mia Lee-Anderson, age 23, is one woman who recently landed a job in health care, an industry that will likely be more shielded than others from job losses during the next recession. She returned to school for an associate’s degree late last year after a period of unemployment. The classes she took helped her score a full-time job in September as a phlebotomist at the Caswell County, N.C., health department in September, a position in which she draws and ships patients’ blood.
“I’m definitely going to use my education and use the health department as a growing experience and a stepping stone” toward eventually becoming a health-care administrator, said Ms. Lee-Anderson, of Yanceyville, N.C.
Stefania Albanesi, a University of Pittsburgh professor of economics, said women also have benefited more than men in recent decades from increasing demand for non-routine jobs, which are less likely to be automated.
This is true of both non-routine cognitive jobs, which include professional occupations like financial analysis, and non-routine manual jobs, which include service occupations like home-health aides. Rising educational attainment among women is one factor helping propel them into non-routine cognitive jobs at a faster rate than males.
For now, few, if any, signs point to an imminent recession. Until the next downturn hits, a tightening labor market will likely continue to help pull down the unemployment rate for both women and men.
Amber Davis, 32, of Ames, Iowa, is one woman who recently found a job after a spell of unemployment.
Ms. Davis had been working temporary jobs for years and found herself completely out of work this spring. In July, with the help of Goodwill’s employment services. Ms. Davis was hired as a human-resources specialist for an Iowa school district, where she recruits maintenance workers and teachers.
“It’s a great opportunity not only for me, but also an opportunity…to be able to contribute to improving unemployment rates by reaching out a hand to people who are in need of jobs,” Ms. Davis said.
Covid-19 Is Pushing Women Out Of Work. Just Look At Italy
Italy’s gender employment gap is now the widest in Europe.
Margherita Marino was a successful family lawyer in Naples, running a small but thriving practice, until the pandemic struck. Now she spends nearly all her time taking care of her two children, who have mostly been at home since March due to prolonged school closures.
“Sometimes I tell myself: I am a supermom looking after my children. Other times I’m like: what am I doing?” said Ms. Marino, 43, who worries her career won’t recover. “It’s frustrating.”
The economic shock from the pandemic has hit women harder than men across much of the Western world. Many of the lost jobs have been in service sectors with large female workforces, such as retail, restaurants and hospitality. Women have also had to shoulder the bulk of child care during school closures, forcing many working moms to stay home.
The labor-market consequences could outlast the pandemic, hurting many women’s long-term economic prospects and worsening gender inequality, economists warn.
A United Nations study found that job losses between the end of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020 disproportionately hurt women. In 55 high-and-middle-income countries, around 29.4 million women over the age of 25 lost or left their jobs—slightly more than men, far more of whom were in the workforce to begin with.
In few major economies is this a bigger problem than in Italy, where female employment was already among the lowest in the West.
In the year through June, Italy’s female employment rate fell by 2.3 percentage points to 48.4%, while men’s fell by 1.6 percentage points to 66.6%, according to Italy’s statistical agency. That employment gender gap is now the widest in Europe.
By comparison, in the U.S., women over the age of 20 participating in the workforce dropped to 54% in November from 57.5% the previous year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Men’s employment rate fell to 65.2% from 69.4%. Labor participation dropped by 3.4 percentage points among working mothers compared with 1.4 percentage points for working fathers between February and October, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
In Italy, it could get worse still. To forestall mass job losses, the government in spring banned firing and increased financing for furlough schemes, which allow companies to keep workers on reduced pay. Those policies are due to expire in the spring.
People who were self-employed or on short-term contracts, which are especially common among women, weren’t granted the same level of support and made up most of the nearly half-a-million people who dropped out of the workforce during the first six months of 2020.
Ms. Marino had to choose between her children and her law practice in September, when schools in the Naples region closed just weeks after they had reopened. Her 9-year-old daughter Francesca was struggling with remote learning and needed close supervision.
Ms. Marino gradually cut back on work, and now she hardly goes to the office or to court at all. To save money, the cleaning lady no longer comes, so Ms. Marino is now doing most of the housework, too.
Her husband, a commercial lawyer, offered to help look after the children to allow her to focus on her practice. But he struggled with his busy workload and soon Ms. Marino told him she could handle the children on her own.
“I appreciated the gesture,” says Ms. Marino. “But it happened naturally, I put myself forward. Women have an extra gear.”
2020 had begun well for Stefania Pala. Last January, the 32-year-old from Lecce in southern Italy was offered her dream job in an interior-design store. When the pandemic struck and Italy locked down, her job disappeared. She was still in the trial period, when layoffs are easy under Italian law.
She has struggled to find work ever since. “As an unemployed woman at this time, I don’t see how things could improve; I have no prospects,” says Ms. Pala.
Italian attitudes are a big obstacle to her finding a job, she says: Prospective employers often ask her whether she plans to have children. “It has nothing to do with one’s ability. The problem here is the very condition of being a woman,” said Ms. Pala.
Her friend, Simona Allegrino, 34, has been unemployed ever since she finished her maternity leave last January. An added challenge is that her local nursery school closes at lunchtime, after which she has to take care of her twin sons.
“The pandemic has made this situation even worse. There is nothing that gives me hope of finding a job, not this year, nor next year,” said Ms. Allegrino.
“It’s a men-first approach,” said Economy Ministry undersecretary Maria Cecilia Guerra. “This pandemic is revealing big gaps in our gender policies, particularly when it comes to the female labor force. Problems that existed before are becoming more apparent and deepening.”
The government has set aside €700 million, equivalent to around $858 million, for expanding the number of day-care centers, says Ms. Guerra.
The gender gap is particularly wide in Italy’s south. The region of Campania, around Naples, had the lowest female employment rate in Europe before the pandemic. Just 29.4% of working-age women in Campania had a job in 2019, compared with an average of 67.3% in the European Union, according to statistics service Eurostat.
Italy hasn’t fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and the eurozone debt crisis that followed. Between 2007 and 2019, the number of people living under the poverty line doubled.
Caritas, a Catholic charity, said the number of new poor turning to it for food vouchers and other assistance has risen dramatically throughout 2020 and includes many women and families with young children.
Monica Viola, a 48-year-old from Benevento in Campania, is one of them. Before the pandemic, Ms. Viola struggled to make ends meet with off-the-books cleaning jobs. Now she simply can’t. Her only regular employment is cleaning the staircase of a building in Benevento, which makes her €65 a month. She relies on her mother’s pension to cover food and other basic needs for herself and her teenage children.
“We were in a bad place before. Benevento doesn’t offer you anything,” she said. “Because of the coronavirus, now everything has stopped.”
The “She-cession” Is Very Real For Minority Women
Policy makers must provide support, lest the damage become permanent.
Some have labeled the pandemic-driven economic slump a “she-cession,” noting how heavily it has weighed on women. Yet this is so general as to be misleading: The real victims have been primarily Latina and Black. To help them recover, Congress and the Biden administration must recognize and address the issues — particularly in the family — that made them vulnerable in the first place.
Judging from unemployment rates, women as a whole have bounced back significantly from the blow the pandemic delivered. After rising to 16.2% in April — more than 2.5 percentage points higher than that of men — the seasonally adjusted rate for women stood at 6.4% in November, compared with 6.9% for men. But unemployment among Latinas and Black women remained much higher, at 8.2% and 9.0%, respectively.
Why the disparity? One explanation is occupational segregation: Latinas and Black women are more likely to have jobs that are affected by the pandemic, or that put them in harm’s way. Latina workers, for example, are disproportionately employed in the hard-hit retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.
They’re also less likely to be able to work remotely, meaning they must often face the difficult choice between losing income and risking their health. As a result, they contract Covid-19 at much higher rates than their White counterparts, which aside from being horrible in itself makes maintaining employment all the more difficult.
Family arrangements matter, too. Minority women tend to bear the brunt of responsibilities in the home, which affects their ability to stay in the workforce. According to research soon to be published in the Hispanic Economic Outlook, Latinas are increasingly citing family reasons for being out of the labor force during the pandemic (at rates much higher than White women). They’re also more likely to have more kids at home and to be single mothers, all of which complicates holding down a job.
The lack of access to reliable childcare compounds these problems. When mothers have no safe place to drop off the kids, and nobody else to step in, they can’t go to work. And the longer closures of schools and childcare centers last, the more their job skills atrophy — a phenomenon that could drive many Latinas and Black women out of the labor force permanently, adding to the negative economic impact of the pandemic.
What to do? First, policy makers should act as quickly as possible to establish the testing and safety measures needed to reopen schools and childcare centers. They should prioritize vaccination of teachers, support staff and childcare workers, particularly in places with high proportions of lower-income minority students.
And they should invest in outreach to encourage vaccine acceptance in predominantly Latino and Black communities, which have strong historical reasons to mistrust the medical establishment. Longer term, they should ensure that all minority women have access to the services — including affordable child care — they need to participate more fully in the labor market.
The Biden administration seems ready to take a more effective approach to containing Covid-19, and has recognized the pandemic’s disparate impact on people of color. One must hope that it will put the two together into policies that will translate into economic gains for minority women, now and in the future.