The April jobs report underscored — yet again — the consistent narrative of the pandemic economy: Unemployment is disproportionately affecting American women.
The U.S. economy added 266,000 jobs in April — a disappointing gain compared with the 916,000 jobs gained in March — and below the expectations of many economists, despite better-than-expected progress with vaccinations and declining coronavirus cases in the United States. The unemployment rate is holding around 6.1 percent.
In April, much like in December and September, women accounted for all of the net job losses. The net employment gain went to men.
“The gender split in the jobs report was glaring,” said Mike Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress.
Women are often the parent responsible for child care, which can include managing remote learning, or the partner who handles caregiving for older or sick family members. Although some schools have reopened, summer is just around the corner, and families will need child care again in a matter of weeks.
“This could easily be burned-out working moms deciding that trying to keep this up until the fall is unsustainable,” said Madowitz. “We know which parents have been putting in the second — and third — shift this year.”
A paper by Madowitz’s colleague Diana Boesch says that women have lost a net 5.4 million jobs during the pandemic, nearly 1 million more than those jobs lost by men.
“The job losses in December are a stark illustration of these trends: Black, Hispanic, and Asian women accounted for all of women’s job losses that month, and 154,000 Black women dropped out of the labor force entirely,” Boesch and co-author Shilpa Phadke wrote in February.
Throughout the pandemic, The Lily has spoken to women who have left the workforce and are looking to get back to work. Here, we check in with two of them to see how they are doing.
53, worked at the Gaithersburg Marriott Washingtonian Center in Maryland
After 13 years, Fernandez was furloughed on March 13, 2020, from her job serving breakfast to business travelers who stayed at the hotel in the D.C. suburbs. In the summer, she lost her job completely. Her brother, who lives nearby and worked in the engineering department at the same hotel, also lost his job.
Unemployment has hit Latinas like Fernandez the hardest. They faced 20.1 percent unemployment in April 2020, according to Boesch and Phadke. This is in large part due to their overrepresentation in the leisure and hospitality industries.
When we spoke to Fernandez in October, she was picking up shifts at friends’ restaurants here and there, but that work was scarce because most orders that came in were for takeout. She said she really loved her former job and was hoping to return.
Today, she has been unable to return to work. One of her daughters, Frances Moyonero, 23, is working at a law firm and able to help with the rent.
Her other daughter, Vanessa Millan, said that now that her family is vaccinated, her mother is in a better place mentally, because she can visit with her nearby relatives. Over the Christmas holidays, when Millan was home from Seattle, she wore a mask inside the house — even falling asleep with it on — while her grandmother wore two. Now they can breathe a little more freely in each other’s company.
Still, Fernandez is hoping to get back to her old job, where she had friends and felt comfortable and confident.
47, a single mother in Atlanta
Whitehurst is a paralegal and office manager of a small law firm. In October, she had her hours and her pay reduced by 50 percent. At the time, she said that she was only able to get by with help from her parents.
The commercial real estate law firm she works at is still hurting for business. While she’s not fully unemployed, she remains underemployed, like so many other women who have had their hours cut in the pandemic. She’s working part time at 20 hours a week and has been able to keep her benefits.
Being able to work remotely has been the silver lining for her.
“Before the pandemic, I was driving three hours a day in total, transporting my daughter to and from school and me to and from work. So I have that time back now,” she said.
Her 19-year-old daughter has been accepted into the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the two are working on figuring out scholarships and grants for the fall. Whitehurst was recently vaccinated, despite being a little hesitant, so she hopes that opens up additional options for her to find full employment.
She says she is open to what may come next.
“I am actively looking for a job and also actively looking to pivot.”