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Why the coronavirus crash is hurting women more than men

Women hit hardest by unemployment
Female workers suffer disproportionate burden of job losses due to pandemic 03:38

While American men bore the brunt of the Great Recession, which slammed male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing, women are taking the biggest hit from the coronavirus crash.

Female workers accounted for 55% of the 20.5 million Americans who lost their jobs in April despite making up just under half of the country's workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

"Job losses are more likely to be in sectors in which women are more prevalent, but even in male-dominated sectors, it appears women are losing their jobs disproportionately more," said Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute. 

Overall, roughly 42 million workers have lost their jobs since the virus erupted in March, new labor data show. The bulk of those losses have come in the leisure and hospitality, retail, education and health care industries, where most workers are women.

In retail, women made up nearly half of the workforce before the pandemic, but accounted for 61% of the industry's job losses in April. Similarly, female workers occupied 77% of education and health services jobs, but made up 83% of job losses. Meanwhile, women are being laid off in greater numbers even in male-dominated sectors.

Blame that on occupational segregation — the reality that even within industries, women tend to hold lower-paying jobs compared to their male counterparts. For example, at many companies a manager who can work from home is less likely to get laid off than front-line workers whose job requires them to interact with customers.

"Women are less likely to become managers or be in jobs that are likely more protected from layoffs," Gould said. 

Women bear the brunt of COVID economic hardships 08:53

Industries with a high concentration of female workers, such as the retail sector, often are in parts of the economy that seem least likely to rebound quickly from the pandemic, experts say.

"I think there is going to be a really slow comeback in leisure and hospitality, which is female dominated, because you need a job to able to save for a vacation and a lot of people don't have jobs right now," said Jasmine Tucker, director of research for the National Women's Law Center, which advocates for gender justice. 

Another factor likely pushing women out the workforce is the burden of childcare, which tends to fall on the shoulders of mothers. Many women might not have the option of returning to work, even if their job remains available, so long as schools and daycare centers remain closed.

"We know, anecdotally, that if people lose their childcare, the mom is the first person to leave work and stay home. That's a big factor here," Tucker said. "This pandemic has laid bare all the problems with how we value women's work and how we have paid them."

She holds out hope though that women will regain some of these job losses quickly, particularly when schools and daycare centers reopen.

"Obviously not all women are mothers, but they do disproportionately take on childcare responsibilities and getting schools and investing in schools and daycare centers is going to be really important," Tucker said. 

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