Closing The Gap

Despite record job gains in June, new data shows that women are still being left behind

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In June, a record number of 4.8 million jobs were added to the economy, according to the Labor Department. This increase, which surpassed economists' expectations of 2.9 million jobs, is the largest single-month job gain in U.S. history. 

But, despite this record growth, data from the National Women's Law Center shows that many women are being left out of this economic rebound.

Between February and April, women lost more than 12.1 million jobs as a result of the coronavirus and only a third of those jobs returned in May and June. When comparing the unemployment rate for women versus men, women ages 20 and over have an unemployment rate of 11.2% compared to men over 20 with an unemployment rate of 10.1%. The June unemployment rate for women is 1.3 times higher than the highest unemployment rate women faced during the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery years, reports NWLC. 

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"Since the pandemic has hit, women have lost the majority of the jobs that the economy has shed, and that is still the case even after the gains we saw last month," Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at NWLC tells CNBC Make It. "It's partly because of the industries the pandemic has hit like leisure and hospitality, retail, and state and government jobs. Those are industries where women are the majority of workers."

In the leisure and hospitality sector, women account for 52% of the industry workforce. In local and state government jobs, women account for 58% of the workforce. And in retail, women account for 48% of the workforce, but made up 61% of the industry's job losses in April. Though 57.1% of the jobs women gained back last month were in the leisure and hospitality and retail sectors, experts fear that women could be in jeopardy of losing those jobs again as states re-impose restrictions on service sector businesses. 

"What we're worried about is those service industry jobs that began to come back are also the ones that are vulnerable to being lost again if parts of the economy have to close down due  to Covid-19 spikes" says Martin. "In fact, the jobs data that we have was collected through mid-June and it doesn't capture some of the [recent] shutdowns that we've seen in a few states."

As a result of increased Covid-19 cases, several states, including Florida, California and Texas, have announced that they're reversing plans of opening more service sector businesses in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. 

In addition to the loss of these service industry jobs, Martin says the ongoing closure of schools and day-care centers is also having a huge impact on women.

"As the entire child-care sector shut down, women were losing flexibility at the very moment that employers were deciding who to lay off and who to fire," she says. And, with women continuing to take on the majority of child-care responsibilities, Martin says she's concerned about the impact this could have on "women's recovery in the longer term" if there aren't "significant federal investments in the child-care sector."

Working mom at home
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Another critical piece of federal relief that is needed, Martin adds, is in state and local governments where women are disproportionately losing their jobs as teachers, public health workers and case workers due to layoffs. In fact, between February and May 2020, women lost 63% of the 1.5 million state and local government jobs that were eliminated, according to NWLC data

"Those services are critical services that help support women and their families," she says. "So one important policy response right now is to make sure those public sector workers can continue to stay on the job and provide the services that allow all of us to be healthy, that allow kids to go to school and that allow parents to have the support they need to be able to go to work."

As the economy tries to rebound from the impact of the pandemic, Martin says it will be important to monitor how Latina and Black women fare in the job market as they've been impacted the most by job losses. 

In June, the unemployment rate for Latinas ages 20 and over was 15.3%, while the unemployment rate for Black women 20 and over was 14%. Both figures are roughly three times the unemployment rate Latina and Black women faced in February before the pandemic hit. 

"Black women and Latinas have been, and continue to be, especially hit hard with unemployment rates," says Martin. "So it's also important to recognize that solutions have to be focused not just on making sure that we build an economy that is promoting gender justice, but also promoting racial justice coming out of this recession."

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