When COVID hit and the stay-at-home orders began, some women were losing their jobs due to closures, while others were forced out to care for their families as schools and daycares closed. In December, a report was released showing that women accounted for all of the jobs lost that month. And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released newer numbers. These show that within these numbers, Black and Latinx women are suffering from higher numbers of job loss. Currently, Latinx women have the highest numbers of job loss at 9.1 percent, and Black women are at 8.4 percent. White women have the lowest rate right now with 5.7 percent, making some gains even while losing jobs. Understanding the differences in jobs held, Black and Latinx women losing jobs at higher rates shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Think about the types of jobs these women tend to have. They tend to be essential, working at places like grocery stores, big box stores or other retail shops. Additionally, they may have jobs in childcare, like daycare employees or operators, or babysitters/nannies. Many also work in food service or another service-type job like cleaning houses or office buildings. All of those fields are struggling right now with COVID related closures happening left and right.
“Those sectors are less likely to have flexibility, so when employers are inflexible or women can’t come to work because of caregiving responsibilities — they have to exit the workforce,” C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told CNN.
Even if their jobs are still available, they may not have things like paid leave, or flexibility in hours which can be major factors in job security. If they don’t have the flexibility to take time off and still make money, they have no choice but to stop working. Because there are no better options for them and their families. And Black and Latinx people are getting COVID in record numbers (mainly due to their forward facing jobs.) For those where safety is a huge issue, their only options may be to give up their jobs.
I live in a city where public school has been virtual since August. At no point has there ever been an option for in-person or even hybrid schooling. The lack of in-person school means parents not only lose the option for all day school, they also lose before and after school care. Finding care for younger children can also be more difficult as well. Many daycares have closed and are still closing due to COVID. Some do not have enough money for proper PPE or enough staff. And even those that are still open may have random closures because of COVID related issues. If you don’t have consistent childcare, how can you work?
Yes, the lack of childcare is making it incredibly difficult for all women to work, because caregiving is usually seen as the mother’s job. But this struggle is absolutely being exacerbated by racial inequity. Because many of these Black and Latinx women who are losing their jobs don’t have many other options. If you work at Target and you have someone at home who is immunocompromised, what do you do? You have to quit, or run the risk of making someone in your household incredibly sick. Or what happens if you’re a server at a place like The Cheesecake Factory? So many in the restaurant industry have lost jobs. And people who don’t have anyone to step in and help have no choice but to leave their jobs to care for their families.
It’s a Catch-22, because right now, in-person schooling is a huge risk for job security as well. Schools may be doing their best to keep their students and faculty safe, but you just never know. If too many cases enter the building, the only thing administration can do is close the school down. Even if it’s only for a week, that can be enough time for an essential worker to lose their job. Because chances are that mom is going to be the one who has to stay home while the kids are home. And if she has an essential job, she runs the risk of potentially bringing something there if her kids have been near someone sick. It’s a bitter cycle.
Childcare access (and lack thereof) is arguably the biggest reason for women’s job loss right now. According to Intelligencer, “an economic downturn coupled with restrictions on work and movement has put many child-care providers and centers out of business. Economists have already warned that vanishing child-care access could keep women out of the workforce over the long term.” According to the same article, the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzed a study from the Washington University of St. Louis, reporting that “39 percent of Latino families say they are less likely to return to work due to a lack of childcare.” They added that 31 percent of white families said the same.
When it comes to talking about childcare, it’s also important to remember that many childcare providers are also Black and Latinx women. Those who run in-home daycares may be seeing the ebb and flow of stable business due to stay-at-home orders. Many parents with a previous need for care are now working from home. And if all of their clients are suddenly working from home, it may be hard to get new families. But at the same time, essential workers may need more childcare. Unfortunately, this can put childcare providers at a disadvantage if the children bring in COVID. This means closures and potential loss of families. Babysitters and nannies are also at a disadvantage, since people are being more careful about who they allow in their homes.
It will take a long time for women to make their way back into the workforce. The job loss we’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg, especially for the Black and Latinx women being the most affected. As this drags on, the numbers will continue to get higher. And that will only make it harder for them to reenter when it’s possible. No matter what, this will be felt for a long time, even after things go back to “normal.”