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  • Mia Penner

The COVID-19 Economic Crisis May Be the Nation's First Female Recession

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

Women are bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 economic crisis, prompting economists to label it as the nation’s first female recession. 

While all Americans have felt the effects of rising unemployment rates, joblessness has disproportionately affected women. During the month of April alone, women accounted for nearly 51% of job losses despite making up only 47% of the workforce. 

Meanwhile, the cancellation of in-person schooling and other childcare services has put women’s ability to participate in the workforce in jeopardy. Women between the ages of 25 and 54 are dropping out of the workforce in increasingly high numbers to care for children at home. According to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 7 million women aren’t employed because they have to provide childcare.  

Black and Hispanic women are shouldering an especially heavy burden. During the height of the recession, unemployment for Hispanic women grew to 20.2% compared to 4.9% in February. Black women witnessed their worst unemployment rates since the 1980s, with 16.5% out of work in May. 

All of this is in stark contrast to the 2008 recession, which saw women’s participation in the workforce increase. In the years following the financial crisis, women made tremendous strides in the workplace, greatly narrowing the participation gap between men and women. But the Covid-19 recession is threatening to wipe out this progress, and it may restrict economic growth for years to come. 

The decline of women in the economic sector may manifest itself in the widening of the wage gap. According to Northwestern University economics professor Matthias Doepke, the recession will likely cause the wage gap to increase by two percentage points.  

The “first female recession” may have political ramifications, too. More and more women are voicing support for paid leave and similar policies. In late March, about 72% of voters said they supported paid leave, up from 64% in early March. Support for paid leave is especially rising among Republicans: 48% of Republican voters voiced support for paid leave in late March, compared to 38% earlier in the month. 

The true effects of the Covid-19 recession remain uncertain, but the economic crisis has already taken a significant toll on women in the workplace. As the pandemic continues to send shockwaves throughout the world, the decline of women in the economic sector may be just one of its many unexpected consequences.

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