MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle: This is why America's record unemployment is impacting women the most

Between February and May, 11.5 million women lost their jobs, compared to 9 million men during the same period.
MSNBC anchor and NBC senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle.
MSNBC anchor and NBC senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle.NBC

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By Stephanie Ruhle and Emily Pandise

As unemployment has soared throughout the coronavirus pandemic, women have been hit especially hard by job loss, according to recent government data.

Jobs data from the past several months has shown that women are losing more jobs overall than men. Between February and May, 11.5 million women lost their jobs, compared to 9 million men during the same period. Additionally, women accounted for 55 percent of the 20.5 million jobs lost in April, according to BLS statistics. That sent the unemployment rate for adult women skyrocketing - 13 percent compared to just 3.1 percent in February.

This recession will be different for men and women, according to National Women’s Law Center Director of Research Jasmine Tucker. “Coming into this recession, women were just starting to come back [from the 2008 recession], just reached the majority of the workforce,” she said in an interview. “All of those jobs that women had gained in a decade were lost in one month.”

One reason women are impacted so greatly is that they tend to work in sectors that are hardest hit. Hospitality & leisure, retail, and education & healthcare, where women work in high numbers, have been affected by state-mandated closures and declines in revenue. According to the National Women’s Law Center’s research, in April, women made up 48% of the retail workforce but lost 62% of the jobs.

Women, the nation’s primary caregivers, are also more likely to leave work to handle childcare than their male counterparts. To accommodate that need, many women work part-time or shift jobs for maximum flexibility, and those jobs were among the first cut.

An estimated 51 percent of American communities don’t have licensed child care options available, according to the Center for American Progress; many of them rural or predominantly minorities. These shortages, known as “childcare deserts,” can have an outsized impact on working parents in low-paying jobs.

According to Tucker, many working parents won’t have much of a choice. “The jobs that can be done remotely are the higher-paid, male-dominated ones. The female ones will be done in person,” she said. Tucker also cites the gender wage gap as another contributing factor to moms staying home, if they co-parent with a male partner. School and summer camp closures may be adding insult to injury.

Women of color are also disproportionately affected by job loss. 18.8 percent of Black women lost their jobs between February and April, according to BLS data. Economists at Grant Thorton also estimate that there are millions of undocumented workers who are jobless but are not represented in government statistics, according to a recent report.

Older women are impacted as well. In fact, women over 55 have seen the biggest increase in their unemployment rate - as of May, 5.5 times higher than it was in January, more than any other group.

According to Lisa Marsh Ryerson of the AARP Foundation, these job losses can have a resounding impact on older workers’ financial stability for the long haul.

“We know that for older workers, that often takes twice as long to get back into the workforce,” she said in an interview last month. “When they're able to get back into the workforce, the older worker is often hired at a lower rate than they previously had in their career or with a job which is further jeopardizing their financial security over time.”

For many women, the job loss connected to coronavirus may be especially difficult to recover from. Some experts think that jobs will not return at all - according to a new University of Chicago working paper, over a third of all jobs lost may be permanent.