‘Shecession’: COVID-19 pandemic is hitting women hard — here’s what an expert says will help recovery

Tracking COVID-19 at child care facilities

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — At a virtual event hosted Tuesday through the University of Texas at Austin, an expert in the ways women have been impacted by the economy emphasized that bringing additional support to childcare and children’s education programs will be an important piece of helping women recover from the fallout of COVID-19.

“As childcare centers closed, that very much impacted women workers,” said Heidi Hartmann, President Emerita and Senior Research Economist with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Hartmann is frequently called upon to testify before lawmakers and to lecture around the world on matters related to women, economics, and policy.

In the event Tuesday, Hartmann quickly brought up the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers (as analyzed by the National Women’s Law Center) which indicate that 865,000 U.S. women left the workforce in the month of September, making up 80% of the total number of people who left the workforce.

“That’s a pretty remarkable number for one month.”

When asked what she thought it would take to bring back more of those women into the labor force, Hartmann said, “I think so much depends on whether we solve the childcare and even the schooling problem.”

A “shecession”

Even prior to the pandemic, research shows women in the U.S. have generally done more childcare and housework than men, including in dual-earner households.

This summer, the Understanding Coronavirus in America Study out of the University of Southern California found that women continued to shoulder a disproportionate amount of work during the pandemic when it comes to childcare. The study found one-third of working mothers in two-parent households reported they were the only ones providing care for their children, compared to one-tenth of working fathers.

Other research on heterosexual parents who both kept their jobs during the pandemic indicate that the demands of homeschooling young children led to reduced working hours for mothers.

The particularly heavy economic toll COVID-19 is placing on women has been increasingly dubbed the “shecession.”

Earlier this month, the LBJ School released a white paper with the YWCA on this “shecession,” noting that women — especially women of color — are being pushed from the workforce and that the female exodus form the workplace could become permanent if not addressed.

The white paper also made the case that economic recovery will require more accessible and affordable childcare.

“The bedrock of the community”

“It is a time when we can so clearly see the gender differences in how the labor market is structured, and how family life is structured, and how the schools and childcare systems look,” Hartmann noted.

It’s not just mothers who are impacted by the strains the pandemic has placed on childcare.

Federal statistics show women make up more than 93% of the childcare workforce in the U.S. The National Women’s Law Center reports that 1 in 5 childcare jobs have been lost since February.

Hartmann explained that during the pandemic, childcare providers, like schools, have had to pay for and learn how to use protective gear while figuring out how to reduce the number of people in rooms together.

“I just think it’s such a disruption that we are going to need some infusion of resources and some ongoing support as well,” she added.

Childcare providers in Austin have described their industry as being turned upside down at recent council meetings as they have asked for help. The city has been able to provide some assistance to childcare providers, including a newly approved grant program with a total of $5 million to distribute.

But with limited local government budgets and reduced sales tax revenue, Hartmann believes there is only so much cities like Austin can do. To affect change, she believes more federal stimulus will be needed.

Without federal aid, she also anticipates more layoffs among teachers, a profession where women make up the majority of employees.

Even beyond the work they are paid to do or obligated to do as parents, Hartmann also noted that women volunteer at higher rates than men.

“It’s not selfish to think about what women need since women are the bedrock of the community and families. So anything we can do to organize their lives and organize supports for their lives is key to our survival, I think,” she said.

Patricia Ruggles, a LBJ school faculty member and economist present for Tuesday’s discussion, noted that regardless of gender, without additional stimulus, Americans can expect to see slow economic growth in the immediate future.

“It seems likely at this point that we are looking at least several more months before we start to see substantial recovery for many families,” Ruggles said.

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