Coronavirus pandemic forces millions of working women into "impossible" roles

Women bear the brunt of COVID economic hardships

The unemployment crisis sparked by the global coronavirus pandemic has delivered an unprecedented blow to women in the United States -- hitting women of color particularly hard. Dr. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women's Policy Research says that's largely due in part to their "over-representation" in service sector-based jobs -- an area that has suffered the greatest impact since the pandemic's start. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for women in April was 16.2%, while the unemployment rate for men was 13.5. Those numbers come as a stark contrast to pre-COVID job rates and the first time an economic spiral has affected women, who were making job gains up until the crisis hit.  

"The reason why women, women of color have been disproportionately impacted by the number of job losses over the last few months is because they're disproportionately and overrepresented in service sectors," Dr. Mason told "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan in an interview this week. Those sectors, which include industries like leisure and hospitality, retail, education and health services, "have been hit hard by the stay at home orders, and it's disproportionately impacted these workers."

But women who have been able to keep working through the pandemic are facing another issue: childcare. With schools, daycares and summer camps closed and children home all day, women have taken on the majority of caregiving responsibilities at home.

"What this pandemic has forced women into is this very impossible role. They have the dual roles as wage earners as well as primary caregivers," said Mason.

And even as the economy is beginning to reopen, Mason said many women will have to choose between going back to work and staying home to care for their families.

"There will not be one for one replacement for all those jobs lost," said Mason. "And we also know that for a lot of families, and a lot of women workers in particular, if the daycares are closed, schools are closed, summer camps are off, those women will not be able to enter back into the workforce."

Mason says there are some policies lawmakers have implemented to provide economic relief to actually fix this problem, such as the provision in the CARES Act that expanded unemployment insurance. Wednesday, lawmakers introduced legislation in Congress to create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund that would "stabilize the child care system, keep providers in business, and ensure parents are able to go back to work."

Mason is hopeful, however, that some of these policies will be institutionalized after the pandemic. "I think we do have a path forward and it's expansive and it's really about expanding and increasing support for working women across the country."


For more of Margaret Brennan's conversations on impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic, head to CBSnews.com/WebExtra