The coronavirus pandemic has had an alarming impact on women globally, with women being disproportionately affected by job loss and burnout as they juggle work with caregiving demands.
In 2020 alone, women globally lost more than 64 million jobs, which equals 5% of the total jobs held by women, reports Oxfam International. By comparison, 3.9% of men's jobs were lost last year. This loss of jobs due to the Covid-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in earnings, a figure that is more than the combined GDP of 98 countries, according to Oxfam International.
"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," Oxfam International's Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement.
Bucher explains that this "conservative estimate" doesn't include the millions of women working in the "informal economy," such as domestic workers, market vendors and garment workers, who have had their hours and income cut drastically during the pandemic.
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Globally, women account for roughly 70% of the health- and social-care workforce, which often includes essential but low-wage jobs. In the U.S. specifically, more than 22.2 million people work in the 40 lowest-paying industries, with women making up 64% of this workforce, according to the National Women's Law Center. These low-wage jobs, which NWLC identifies as positions that typically pay less than $12 an hour, include waitresses, cashiers, child-care workers, housekeepers, home health aides and hotel clerks.
In addition to women being overrepresented in low-wage roles, some of which have been disproportionately cut during the pandemic, women are also leaving the workplace at an alarming rate. Between February 2020 and February 2021, more than 2.3 million women in the U.S. left the labor force, compared to around 1.8 million men, reports NWLC.
This mass exit is largely linked to the closure of day-care centers and schools, causing millions of women to be burdened by both work and child-care responsibilities, experts say.
"For women in every country on every continent, along with losing income, unpaid care work has exploded," says Bucher. She explains that the combined impact of unemployment, along with women feeling pressured to leave the workplace because of child care, is what has contributed to women losing $800 billion in income worldwide.
During the pandemic, mothers have been three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for a majority of housework and child care, according to a Lean In and McKinsey & Company report. Mothers have also been twice as likely as fathers to worry that their work performance is being judged negatively because of their caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic.
As a result, roughly 1 in 4 women in September said they were thinking about downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely due to the Covid-19 crisis.
To address the pandemic's disastrous impact on women, Bucher says governments worldwide need to take greater steps to increase women's economic security by investing more in child care and offering more flexible work arrangements.
So far, only 11 countries worldwide have introduced shorter or flexible work options to accommodate employees with caregiving responsibilities, and just 36 have strengthened their family and paid sick-leave policies, reports Oxfam International.
Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized country without a federal paid family leave policy, leading to 1 in 4 American moms returning to work just 10 days after giving birth, according to Paid Leave for the United States.
Recently, President Joe Biden introduced the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which calls for affordable child care and a federal paid leave policy. If the plan is passed, families earning less than 1.5 times their state median income level would not pay for child care and those earning above that would spend no more than 7% of their income on child-care needs.
Additionally, workers would get 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, care for a sick loved one or tend to their own medical needs.
"As we move from emergency measures to long-term recovery, governments around the world must seize this opportunity to build more equal, more inclusive economies for all," says Bucher. "A fair and sustainable economic recovery is one that supports women's employment and unpaid care work through strong social safety nets and vibrant care infrastructures."
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