"Women represent a large portion of the workforce in industries that are particularly hard hit by the pandemic like retail, hospitality, recreation and manufacturing — all of which are seeing high numbers of layoffs," said Kelley Griesmer, president and CEO of the Women's Fund of Central Ohio. "Companies are also likely to lay off women sooner because women tend to fill low-authority and low-wage positions."
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March was the first time in any month in at least three years — possibly much longer — that claims filed by female Ohioans exceeded those of male workers, according to readily available state data.
Between 2015 and 2019, women accounted for about 40% of new jobless claims in the seven-county local region.
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Since 1969, men have borne the brunt of job losses during recessions, and the 2007-2009 crisis wasn't even especially bad for male workers compared to some previous downturns, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
This economic crisis, however, has been different, and some people are calling it the "She-cession" or "Femcession" because women-heavy industries have been among the hardest hit.
The U.S. economy lost 701,000 jobs in March, and about 59% (412,188 jobs) belonged to women, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Last month, women’s job losses nationwide outnumbered men’s in nearly all sectors of the economy, the institute says.
Ohio shed 39,700 jobs last month, and the state’s leisure and hospitality industry accounted for 27,000 of those losses, which were mostly in accommodation and food service, according to preliminary U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Women account for 52% of U.S. workers in restaurants and other food service businesses, the bureau says. They also make up nearly 55% of employees at bars and 58% of accommodations sector payrolls.
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Economists and researchers point out that March’s actual job losses certainly were much higher than the estimates, because the data was gathered during the week ending March 14.
That was a day before Ohio Gov. DeWine closed restaurants and bars, and eight days before his stay-at-home order shuttered many businesses.
Data already shows that women have been and will continue to be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing damage to their economic stability will be significant, said Griesmer, with the Women’s Fund.
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The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 will compound economic inequalities and inequities women already faced, Griesmer said, such as earning less, having less wealth or assets, holding insecure or low-wage jobs or living close to poverty.
In 2017, Ohio women on average earned 81.8% of their male counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The wage gap between the sexes typically means women are less likely to have the same kinds of savings and economic buffers as men to help tide them over if they are laid off, said Ariane Hegewisch, program director for employment and earnings with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
“The inequality we have in paid work translates into an inequality in being able to weather this kind of crisis,” she said.
Many households depend entirely on women's earnings, such as single-parent households. There are more than 584,000 single-female households in Ohio, including 329,270 with minor children, according to the U.S. Census.
But Hegewisch said she’s interested to see if the job losses mount in other industries that tend to employ more men than women, like construction. She also noted that some women-heavy sectors are “essential” during this pandemic and could grow jobs because of high demand.
Women account for 78% of workers in health care and social assistance and 70% of educational services workers, according to federal labor data.
Hegewisch said if women were paid the same wages as men who had their same experience and education levels then poverty among working women would be cut in half.
“There’s just a huge impact of undervaluing the type of work women typically do,” she said.
Helen Shedd was laid off from Taylor Communications on March 30 because of COVID-19, she said. And then she got stuck in a in a “never-ending, vicious circle” trying to apply for unemployment.
“I’ve been sitting here all morning trying to figure out how I’m going to make it,” she said recently.