Women continue losing jobs at rates higher than men

Women made up nearly two-thirds of new unemployment claims at the start of the pandemic.

A year later, things look uncomfortably similar.

“It’s not that women are choosing to leave the workforce — they’re being pushed out,” said Julia Fullick-Jagiela, associate professor and chair of management and co-director of the People’s United Center for Women and Business at Quinnipiac University.

Women work the majority of low wage jobs and jobs that don’t have child care support. They’re also working in sectors that have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, including retail, travel and food service.

It’s these burdens that have cost women their jobs and created barriers for their return to work.

In mid-March, women accounted for more than 60 percent of new unemployment filings, according to the state Department of Labor. Many of these claims may be refiles since benefits expire after one year.

Nevertheless, in continued claims from people who are still unemployed — though they’ve steadily decreased since early June — women again have made up the majority of those filings over the past year.

Women on average are still primarily responsible for child and relative care in their households so childcare is a primary barrier to women re-entering the workforce. It can be costly and inaccessible and women don’t have the option of leaving young children alone at home, even to work to support them.

Part of Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Connecticut Friday to promote the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan centered on how the legislation increases the child tax credit and offers billions of dollars to help child care providers reopen.

It aims to get women back to work by making more child care available.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the current chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, has been advocating for expanding the child tax credit for 20 years.

The American Rescue Plan also includes $277 million to help day care and preschools in Connecticut. Last week, the governor said Connecticut will also use some of the money to eliminate any child care fees for parents of low-income children who already receive partially state-subsidized care from April to September.

“Right now, women are the smallest part of the labor force that they’ve ever been because so many women decided to drop out of the workforce because they were taking care of kids at home or relatives,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said. “I think more women have been pushed out of the workforce, or needed to leave because of all they had on their plate.”

The state estimates Connecticut has lost more than 40,000 child care spots because some day cares closed amid the pandemic. At the low in 2020, less than one in four providers in Connecticut were open.

“As the governor and I work to reopen the state, there’s a limit to what the state can do to provide child care opportunities,” Bysiewicz said. “A lot of help is going to have to come from the federal government because you cannot fully open an economy and get people back to work unless you have child care.”

She gave the example of WWII when men went to war and women stepped up to work in factories. The federal government provided the first — and so far only — national child care program so that mothers could go to work, spending $20 million on programs across the country.

That money is equivalent to about $308.3 million today.

For those still in the workplace, more mothers than fathers reported feeling consistently exhausted, burned out and pressured to work more and a third of mothers have considered leaving the workforce because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the 2020 Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey.

“Especially over the last year women and people of color have been facing not only their own workload but have also been taking on a lot of emotional labor, social justice issues and everything that’s going on in the world,” Fullick-Jagiela said.

Without help or relief, the dual burden of work and family care on women will take a physical and mental toll, she said.

While many companies support their employees' needs and work from home, just as many do not, she said.

The option of working from home opens these jobs up to more people who couldn’t otherwise go into an office because of barriers including transportation, child care, physical disability or proximity to the office.

Many women who have not been laid off in the last year have been forced to leave the workplace to attend to family care responsibilities, the lasting effect of which could mean fewer women in leadership positions down the line.

It could set women back half a decade in regard to seeing them in leadership positions, McKinsey reports.

Fullick-Jagiela questioned whether women would be reducing their hours at work or stepping back from leadership roles if they had other options for child care.

The governor’s Council on Women and Girls, which Bysiewicz leads, introduced a series of legislative proposals concerning a number of barriers working women face.

It includes legislation to expand access to child care in urban areas, remove discriminatory questions about age from job applications, allow women running for office to use Citizens Election Program funds for childcare expenses and easing barriers for military spouses that recognizes professional licenses from other states.

“Women’s issues are economic issues and we need women back fully engaged in our workforce,” Bysiewicz said.

mdignan@hearstmediact.com