The Impact of COVID-19 on Women
The COVID-19 pandemic has welcomed an unprecedented time. Schools have been shut down, businesses in ruins, and millions of people sent home for quarantine. The past two years have prompted stories of job loss, food insecurity, housing instability, and health concerns. The pandemic has exposed our racial and economic shortcomings and worsened financial hardship for many struggling households.
Women are at the core of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the OECD Policy Responses to Covid-19, women make up almost 70% of the health care workforce, making them the most vulnerable to becoming sick and spreading COVID. Simultaneously, while schools and child care facilities have closed, women endure much of the burden at home and the brunt of longstanding gender inequalities in unpaid work. Along with the economic crisis during the pandemic, women have faced high risks of job and income loss and increased risks of violence, exploitation, and abuse.
The first statewide ALICE report has exposed the current economic vulnerability of many Connecticut residents. ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This data-driven and comprehensive research report confront the situation of many low-income working families across Connecticut. ALICE works to highlight the number of Connecticut households unable to afford life’s basic necessities. In addition, ALICE has exposed the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on many homes in Connecticut.
Before the pandemic, ALICE reported that 42% of U.S. households were already unable to make ends meet. There have been discrepancies in the ALICE report to understand the disruption women have faced throughout the pandemic. However, many of our health care workforce continue taking care of COVID-19 patients. All health and social care workers face exceptional demands through the crisis, but the strain is particularly dire for women care workers. Many workers do not have adequate protection, so they are risking their own health and their families. ALICE has reported that many of these workers are struggling paycheck to paycheck.
The spread of COVID‑19 represents not just a public health crisis but also an economic crisis. The global economy is in greater danger than ever since the 2008 financial crisis. The spread of the virus has interrupted international supply chains and forced workers to remain at home because they are quarantined, sick, or subject to lockdowns. The updated 2020 Connecticut United Way’s ALICE Report documents the challenges facing ALICE families throughout Connecticut and identifies trends that control ALICE’s ability to achieve financial security. In Middlesex County, 14,778 households fall under the ALICE criteria, approximately 25 percent of all Middlesex County households.
A woman’s position in the labor market is much different from a man’s. Now more than ever, women are working longer hours and pursuing higher education at a greater rate. However, despite this progress, significant wage gaps between men and women still exist. ALICE families face significant barriers when compounded with a major wealth gap. Data from the National Women’s Law Center indicates that in Connecticut, women make up nearly 67% of the low-wage workforce and that women are two times more likely to hold a low-wage job than men.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, these gender gaps leave women more vulnerable than men to job loss; a woman’s weaker status in the labor market leaves them more vulnerable and easier to lay off. The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges women have always faced regarding representation in the labor market. Between February and December 2020, job losses for women exceeded those for men by one million. In December alone, the BLS employment data reports, women lost 86.3 percent of the 227,000 job losses. In total, 2.5 million women have left the labor force, compared with 1.8 million men. In late 2020, women workers’ median weekly earnings were 83.4 percent of those of men, and incomes were even lower for Black and Hispanic women. These disparities affected women before COVID-19, but the presence of the virus has intensified these issues.
The pandemic has taken a brutal toll on this country. Voices previously silenced are being heard, and archaic systems are being scrutinized. Unfortunately, much of the global response to COVID-19 has not considered the gendered and intersectional impacts. The gap in the response can be attributed to the absence of women, especially in decision-making settings at all levels.
For more information or to find data about ALICE in local communities, visit http://alice.ctunitedway.org. To learn more about efforts being made to help the ALICE population in Middlesex County and our financial stability work, visit www.middlesexunitedway.org.
Dilawaiz Rao is a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College, double majoring in politics and computer science.