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Growing length of economic crisis forcing women out of the job market

By staff |
October 5, 2020
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San José, CA - On Friday, October 2, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the official unemployment rate had dropped to 7.9% in September, from 8.4% in August. But of the almost one million people who left the official unemployment count, 70% stopped looking for work and did not find a job. This is because the government’s unemployment rate only counts those who are both without paid work and who are looking for work.

Even worse, almost 90% of the people dropping out of the unemployment rolls were women, and only 10% were men. This recession is different from earlier recessions, where the unemployment rate for men climbed higher and faster than for women, as layoffs hit construction and manufacturing. This time the COVID-19 pandemic hit service industries such as travel, lodging and food service, affecting women workers harder. Thus, the official unemployment rate for women last month was higher than for men.

With many schools and childcare centers closed, women often are expected to sacrifice their work for domestic roles. The fact that women earn only 60-70% as much as men with similar education also makes an economic case for staying at home.

Black women were the hardest hit, being twice as likely as white women to have been forced out the labor force. This recession has been increasing inequality in many ways, from greater job losses for low-paid workers (while higher-paid workers were more likely to be able to keep working from home), to the jobs which are coming back the fastest for white men.

Job growth weakened even more in September. 661,000 new jobs were created, less than half the 1.5 million in August and fewer than economists had estimated. Governments were the biggest losers, with almost 300,000 jobs cut. Tax revenues have fallen with the recession, leading local and state governments to cut their budgets and lay off workers.

The economy is still down 11 million jobs as of September, having made up about half of the 22 million lost in March and April. But month after month the return of jobs has slowed, and may end altogether in October as Disney, the airlines, and other large corporations announce tens of thousands of layoffs to come. The economy has lost more jobs at this point than during the last recession and financial crisis between 2007 and 2009.

While the hospitalization of President Trump because of COVID-19 reminds us of the ongoing pandemic in the United States, the increase in job losses are becoming more like a typical recession. Job losses in industries not directly affected by the pandemic are now approaching those of the last recession. This can be seen in the large layoff announcements by oil and gas giant Shell Oil, and the military and weapons corporation Raytheon.

In the meantime, the latest report by the U.S. government on personal income shows that it fell 3.5% in August after adjusting for taxes and inflation. Almost the entire drop was caused by the end of the $600 per week in additional unemployment insurance benefits, which led total UI benefit payments to fall by more than half.

With this comes the growing need for more federal aid for the unemployed, for state and local governments, and for school districts that are struggling to get by. The Democrats in the House of Representatives have cut their original $3.5 trillion aid bill by more than a trillion dollars to $2.2 trillion in efforts to come to a compromise agreement with the Republican Senate and the White House. But the Republicans have shown no effort to compromise, cutting their original $1 trillion package to only $350 billion.