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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Women Hardest Hit By Economic Impact Of COVID

Speaker 1: 00:00 The pandemic has changed all of our lives in one way or another, but that impact has not been felt equally. The percentage of serious illness and deaths from COVID has been higher among Latino and black Americans. And more people of color have also been hurt financially, but among all races, women seem to have borne the brunt of the economic impact of COVID something that may continue to affect their careers and lives for years to come organizations across the country are trying to assess the damage and find out what we've learned from this disaster that could help us recover. Joining me is a leader in one of those organizations. Shana gross is director of programs with the San Diego workforce partnership and Shana, welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. One recent statistic seems to frame this problem of women losing out economically CNN reported that us women lost 156,000 jobs last month while men gained 16,000. What are the reasons for that? Speaker 2: 01:04 Um, well I think there are a few reasons that go into that one is that women tend to work in the sectors where we're losing the most jobs, places like hospitality and retail. And so, you know, obviously those have been closed because of the pandemic. The other reason is that, you know, anytime we see this tension in a family, all of a sudden we have all of these kids who used to be in school, think of a, seven-year-old a nine-year-old who used to be in school and now are home and they can't be home by themselves. Uh, they need some sort of childcare and supervision and it historically, and, you know, statistically has been the women who end up dropping out of the workforce and staying home to take care of the kids. Speaker 1: 01:51 So that's why women who would still have jobs may have been forced to give them up during the pandemic. Speaker 2: 01:58 Right? Absolutely. And when you think about women who are making maybe $35,000 a year, and then the cost of having childcare for two school aged children, you're the seven and nine year old. I mentioned that just doesn't pencil out. And so sometimes it just doesn't make sense to go to work. If you're going to have to spend that much on childcare, there are other women who are dropping out to take care of other family members. Uh, you know, women tend to be the caretakers. And so whether it's adult care or childcare, uh, they're the ones who either dropped to part time or, you know, take a leave of absence or, or leave the workforce altogether in order to be able to take care of the family. Speaker 1: 02:38 Is it also fair to say that the women who could afford it least have been affected the most by these job losses? Speaker 2: 02:45 Absolutely. Yeah. And I think what's happened is that they've been faced with really a terrible set of options in making these decisions. And, um, and often the jobs that they're in don't feel safe and you have an older adult who lives with you in your home and you don't feel safe being on the front lines. You know, some of these essential workers. And when you look at how much you making by working there and the risk that you could bring home to your family, people are making the decision women, especially to, to, to not work and keep their family safe. Speaker 1: 03:19 Can you give us an idea of what you've heard from women who come to the workforce partnership about their situations? Speaker 2: 03:26 Yeah. We've had a lot of women who have come and are, um, maybe have been laid off, are looking for work. Many people don't feel safe being in the workforce right now. It's getting better now that we're seeing the vaccination rates go up and, and it's feeling like there's a light at the end of the tunnel. But, uh, early on in the pandemic, there was a lot of unknowns and, and people really didn't feel safe working. You know, I don't want to call out a particular sector, but you think of the places where you're more highly exposed, you know, at the grocery store or working in retail or home health AIDS. And those jobs don't tend to pay the best and they have a lot of risk associated with them. So we saw a lot of people wanting to switch careers or switch jobs to something that they felt was safer. Speaker 2: 04:15 Um, and a lot of people talking about, you know, I need something that's flexible. A lot of the lower paying jobs don't have the ability to work from home. Also, you know, many of us have had the luxury of being able to work from home. But when you're talking about frontlines and the many of the layoffs and the lost jobs that were ref the CNN study was referring to, there's not an ability to transition to those, to be working from home. So people are looking for things that they can use their skills, still be able to take care of their kids. You know, I'm not going to get in trouble if they hear my child crying in the background, or if I need to take a break to help somebody with homework or get them set up for school. And that's really hard to find, particularly as a brand new worker, um, you know, anytime you start a job, of course, you want to put your best foot forward and, and be able to say yes, as much as possible. And I think a lot of women are finding themselves in a position where they have a lot of caveats. They have a lot of considerations that they need in order to start a new job. And, and that can feel like you're starting off on uneven footing. Speaker 1: 05:17 You yourself are a working mom. What has your experience been like juggling work and family during the pandemic? Speaker 2: 05:23 It's been a challenge. Uh, both my husband and I are working from home and we've had to really coordinate schedules. Um, I'm lucky that I have family support nearby and they take care of my son, um, for a few hours each day, but I've had to become comfortable with, um, him running into my office at any given time. And, you know, yesterday I was on a meeting and he was building his rocket ship, uh, launcher next to me. And, you know, you just have to it's, doesn't look perfect. Um, or maybe this is the new definition of what perfect looks, you know, this is the reality that we're all dealing with. And I think you just have to be juggle and give yourself some grace and, um, hope that others are being understanding as well. Speaker 1: 06:08 DEMEC as you say, seems to have exposed gender inequities that have always existed, but we haven't paid attention to is what we're seeing the result of having an inadequate social safety net. Speaker 2: 06:20 Absolutely. Here in San Diego, you know, before the pandemic, we had a childcare shortage gap of about 190,000 spots. So, you know, children that don't have a stay-at-home parent, but need childcare they're under 12. Um, so that was pre pandemic after the pandemic and during the pandemic, we know that a lot of childcare facilities have had to either close or decrease their capacity because the ratios for provider to children has been reduced in order to try to do, um, you know, stay safe. And that's, um, you know, I think we're really seeing now a system that was broken before, but has been even more impacted what changes Speaker 1: 07:00 With the workforce partnership like to see here in San Diego to address these gaps that affect women's ability to balance home and work. Speaker 2: 07:09 There are a few changes that, that we can see. Um, certainly we encourage businesses to really look at, um, how are they doing? How are they serving women and new parents and to look at their data, um, what's their new parent retention rate and, and not just on, you know, how many people return from maternity or paternity leave, but 12 months after someone has had, um, a child joined their family, how are they retaining them? Who's getting promoted, uh, what are employee surveys saying? And I think that will really, um, be in illuminative, uh, to show some of the, the issues there. We would also love to see, um, you know, flexible schedules as needed and flexible workloads phasing back paid parental leave is something that most employers don't offer. And that can be really huge. And then looking, you know, I think about things that, um, the city and the County can do as well. They've been incredible in, um, helping essential workers and having vouchers for childcare, but there are other things we can be doing about looking at co-locating childcare in their buildings, so that we have low or no rent. And then the childcare provider could invest that in better wages and better quality. We can also change some of our policies to incentivize and prioritize family-friendly businesses, Speaker 1: 08:30 Long list. I want to thank you. Shana gross director of programs with the San Diego workforce partnership. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you.

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Women seem to have borne the brunt of the economic impact of COVID-19, something that may continue to affect their careers and lives for years to come.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments