US President Joe Biden has laid down an emphatic and unequivocal position on the pandemic fallout impacting women: “It is a national emergency. It genuinely is a national emergency,” Biden said in an interview with ‘CBS Evening News’ yesterday.
In America, like the rest of the world, women have been hit hardest by COVID, with a now record 5.3 million plus, job losses since the pandemic began– a 33 year low according to new data from the National Women’s Law Center.
“The total number of women who have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic reached over 2.3 million last month, leaving women’s labor force participation rate – the percent of adult women who are either working or looking for work – at 57.0%,” the report wrote. “Before the pandemic, women’s labor force participation rate had not been this low since 1988.”
While men have also been impacted adversely, the gender gap is seismic with a comparative 1.8 million men leaving the labor force since February 2020.
Other concerning trends were documented by NWLC including that 2 out of 5 of the 12.2 million jobs held by women that were lost over the course of February and April 2020 haven’t returned.
While the reasons for this are manifold, one of the leading factors is that the sectors most affected by the recession are ones which were dominated by women. This includes leisure and hospitality industries as well as retail and child care sectors.
Another contributing factor is that millions of women have been forced out of the workforce with the closure of schools. It was largely mothers who took on additional child care duties and the responsibility of home-schooling.
In a November op-ed for the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller wrote that this revealed a telling truth about America: “The sudden return to 1950s-style households wasn’t an aberration. Rather, it revealed a truth: In the United States, mothers remain the fallback plan,” she said.
And these women aren’t even counted in the unemployment rate calculations as they’re not technically searching for work.
“In some ways the unemployment rate is artificially lowered by the fact that it doesn’t capture these millions of women,” says Emily Martin, the Vice President for education and workplace justice at NWLC.
Impacts on younger women as well as Black, Latina and Asian women are also noticeably more severe.
1 in 10 (10.3 percent) of women between the ages of 20-24 reported unemployment from January 2021. While last month, 9.1% of Latinas and 8.4% of Black women were unemployed, compared to 5.7% of White women and 5.8% of White men.
So, what will Biden do?
The President has already expressed his alarm at the ongoing closure of schools which have disrupted millions of families across the country.
“I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely,” Biden told CBS. “You have to have fewer people in the classroom, you have to have ventilation systems that have been reworked,” added.
It’s a promise he’s laid on the table, suggesting that within 100 days of his leadership, schools will reopen.
“Our CDC commissioner is going to be coming out with science-based judgment, within I think as early as Wednesday, as to lay out what the minimum requirements are,” Biden said.
“I think about the price,” he added, underscoring the developmental and mental health costs experienced by many children and their parents.
“So many of my grandkids and your kids are going to pay for not having had the chance to finish whatever it was. That graduation, where you didn’t get to walk across the stage – I think they’re going through a lot, these kids,” he said.
On the advice of chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden also emphasised the criticality of reaching herd immunity. With 75% of Americans yet to be vaccinated, he told CBS he was doing everything in his power to attain more of the vaccine quickly to hasten the rollout.