Maria Fernandez worked at the Gaithersburg Marriott Washingtonian Center for 13 years, setting up and serving breakfast to the business travelers who made up the overwhelming majority of the guests to this D.C. suburb.
Her last day of work was March 13.
At first she was furloughed, but as the coronavirus pandemic continued to decimate the travel and hospitality industry, Fernandez found out she was officially terminated. Her brother, who worked in the engineering department doing maintenance for the hotel, also lost his job.
Like many service or hospitality industry workers, Fernandez, 52, is having a tough time finding a new job in a difficult economy. She’s not alone.
As more data emerges about the coronavirus-induced economic crisis, women like Fernandez are bearing the brunt of it. Women are losing more jobs than men for the first time and having a harder time getting back into the workforce. The difference is stark enough that it’s being referred to as a “she-cession,” a term coined by C. Nicole Mason, chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
But women of color have been hit hardest. They make up the majority of caretaking and service industry roles and now, months into a far-reaching crisis, they are having the hardest time getting rehired, economists say in a new report from American Progress.
The report shows that White women are recovering much more rapidly from initial job losses, noting that layoffs and care burdens are disproportionately reducing employment among Black, Asian American and Latina mothers.
“Women of color and Black women in particular are often working an essential job, the front-line jobs that are most vulnerable to covid — the service-sector jobs, the low-wage jobs, the care-economy jobs,” said Diana Boesch, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report.
The report shows that while both White women and Black women experienced unprecedented job losses in April, Black women’s jobs have come back even slower than White women’s jobs.
“Latina women have also experienced dramatic employment and labor force declines, with job losses out of phase with the rest of the recovery,” the report says.
It has been harder to track the effect of the crisis on Asian American women, because monthly jobs reports don’t break out data for Asian Americans by gender. But economists Mina Kim and Diane Lim have documented a very deep recession for Asian American women, according to the report. In February, Asian American women faced a very low unemployment rate of 3 percent — tied with White women, according to Lim’s research. But by August, they hit peak unemployment of 15.9 percent and remained at 11.5 percent in August — the slowest recovery of any ethnic group from February through August, the pair said.
Fernandez says she’s been looking for work constantly.
“There’s nothing,” she said.
When she was officially let go, she received a severance from Marriott that she said could last her a few more months. In the meantime, she is hunkering down and saving money. She says she never buys clothes, doesn’t drive much anymore and shares meals with nearby family.
Still, it’s been an adjustment. She is used to working full time in addition to picking up extra work at restaurants on the side. Like so many jobless Americans, unemployment can take a mental toll.
“The transition from spending most of her time working and having very little free time to not having a job at all and only free time was a very difficult adjustment,” said her daughter, Vanessa Moyonero.
Another factor that makes the recovery for non-White women harder is that like Fernandez, they are often the breadwinners for their families.
“The rates of women of color who are breadwinners is much higher than White women,” Boesch said. “In fact, four out of five Black mothers are the primary breadwinner in their family. Three out of five Hispanic mothers are the primary or co-breadwinners in their family. So I think when we’re looking at solutions, we need to think holistically. … We need to think about supporting women both at work and at home.”
Fernandez isn’t the only one in her family to have lost a job, but they are still helping each other where they can.
“Our other family is in the same situation and [we] make the best of it with each other. Earlier in the pandemic, they’d drop off food or pastries they’d bake for each other at their doorsteps,” Moyonero said.
The family has also gotten creative.
Moyonero started an online retail business, Con Cultura, to sell eco-friendly goods like T-shirts and tote bags to help her family members who have lost work.
“My sister helps manage that out of my childhood bedroom, and my grandma, mom, sister, cousin have served as models. They’ve helped with tracking orders, packaging, shipments, managing the Instagram account — and all the revenue goes to them. They really enjoyed the photo shoots and are brainstorming our fall collection.”