We are living through our nation’s first female-driven recession. Fueled by disappearing service-sector jobs and a lack of childcare options, the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis has triggered a nationwide “shecession,” the ripple effects of which are already threatening the workforce and could imperil the female future of work.
Women, especially women of color, are being ousted from the workforce, largely due to disappearing jobs in industries that may never recover. Without major investments in quality, national childcare and the female future of work, this exodus of women from the workplace could be permanent. Legislative leaders need to act quickly to make sure that women can survive — and thrive — in this shecession.
A major roadblock to progress is the failure of lawmakers to identify and act on women’s economic security needs. Women feared economic insecurity long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
YWCA USA – one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the country – conducted and released the YWomenVote 2020 survey prior to the pandemic. What did we find out? Women. Are. Worried.
Across age, income levels, racial identities and party lines, women expressed deep concerns about access to high-quality and affordable childcare, well-paying jobs with benefits, pay equity and fair workplaces.
Even before COVID-19, women of color and young women felt these concerns immensely. And now, they are the ones feeling the deepest economic pain. The majority of women of color have lost their hours, experienced a pay cut, or faced unemployment. Even women on the frontlines, those who arguably have the best job security, are being forced to leave their jobs due to the lack of available childcare.
So what should lawmakers do? Listen! Women are 51 percent of the population. Single or partnered, we are caregivers and breadwinners. Our needs are America’s needs. The failures to address the concerns of women at a national and local level, despite overwhelming support, indicate that we simply are not being heard.
Women have been sounding the alarm about our broken childcare system for years. The pandemic has made two things very clear: childcare is not just a “women’s issue,” and our nation’s childcare system is failing everyone — parents, children, childcare workers and the American economy.
Access to childcare is a problem regardless of income. Families with incomes over $100,000 and less than $40,000 are equally likely to report inadequate childcare options. In 2019, half of working families reported having difficulty finding suitable childcare, citing cost availability and quality as the primary obstacles. The childcare crisis is hurting American workers, businesses and our economy; the cost of lost earnings, revenue, and productivity resulting from inadequate childcare totals about $57 billion per year.
The sector itself is ripe for overhaul, too. Childcare workers are among the lowest paid in the American workforce. This low-wage sector is 96 percent female, and women of color are disproportionately represented.
Federal lawmakers must invest in a high-quality childcare system that addresses availability, cost, quality and equity to aid the nation’s COVID-19 recovery and support long-term economic resiliency. This childcare system must compensate childcare workers fairly, as they are the backbone of the economy.
This is the moment not just to address the problems exacerbated by the COVID-19 economic crisis, but to prepare ourselves for the next crisis. The future of work is not that far away, and for women it looks bleak.
Jobs will grow in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), fields where women, especially women of color, remain vastly outnumbered. Additionally, companies have accelerated their automation plans in light of COVID-19, which will negatively impact women’s participation in the labor force.
If federal lawmakers act quickly and comprehensively, they can protect women from job losses and create widespread economic growth for women, men, their families and the American economy.
Funding college pipelines and apprenticeship programs can help wage gaps, especially for women of color. Job training programs are proven to bolster economic security and educational opportunities for parents and their children. These strategic investments can ensure that women, like their male counterparts, are given a strong base for post-secondary STEM pursuits and professional development programs in fields or industries where workers are at less risk of being replaced by automation.
We now know, in no uncertain terms, what women need to achieve economic security: well-paying, stable jobs and comprehensive childcare solutions. We also know that what women need looks a lot like what America needs. The political system had more than 50 years to prepare for the inevitable “shecession.” We should not have to wait one day longer to act.