About 20 months into the pandemic, women are worried about their careers and struggling financially more than men
We’re almost 2 years out from hearing the word COVID for the first time, and when it comes to our careers and our bank accounts, things aren’t looking great, especially for women and People of Color.
In fact, according to a new study conducted by the University of Phoenix Career Institute, 51 percent of women are living paycheck to paycheck while 46 percent of women are consistently worried about losing their job in the current economy. One in three say that the pandemic has derailed their career in a significant way, even though 83 percent say that they have the skills they need and are highly employable.
Other surveys and reports have found even higher percentages of families living paycheck to paycheck during the pandemic. A survey from Highland Solutions in December 2020 found that 63 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, while a report from LendingClub Corporation in June 2021 found that 54 percent of Americans couldn’t miss a paycheck without going into debt.
This is compounded by the fact that over 1.8 million women have left the workplace since February 2020, many due to childcare issues, illness, burnout, family duties, and other issues related directly and indirectly to the pandemic.
Why are women being disproportionally hit when it comes to their careers and finances during the pandemic?
“What we have seen over the course of the pandemic is an amplification of dynamics that were already in play before,” said Ruth Veloria, Chief Strategy & Customer Officer University of Phoenix. “Women are the caregivers in their families, they are the family members who bear the greatest portion of childcare and schooling support, whether by choice or necessity. And they are often in the middle of generations—caring for parents while also caring for children. Meeting the needs and responsibilities of everyday living for our families directly impacts our capacity for work and career mobility and planning.”
And these aren’t the only issue. When one parent has to stay home for childcare, it’s often the person who makes less money—and women on the whole make less because sexism. The gap is even more stark for Women of Color.
How can we turn things around? While it’s all well and good to just try harder on an individual level, it seems increasingly clear that the United States needs to take a hard look at it’s infrastructure, programming, and support systems—issues that include but are not limited to childcare, paid parental leave, and equal pay for equal work.
While some of these are issues left to the government to take up, Veloria says others can be implemented by private corporations, organizations, and places of learning now so that workers, especially women, can have a better chance at a successful career and job security
“We have opportunities to make the workplace a more flexible, engaging and supportive environment, where women and any worker can feel supported in setting a work-life balance,” she said. “Our workplaces can adapt, to make it feel worthwhile and fulfilling to be in a career. And higher education institutions can continue to improve the flexibility and time and cost of their education offerings to better serve career-focused adult learners.”
Despite all of the bad news, the University of Phoenix reports that people, including women, are optimistic about the future somehow: 78 percent of Americans said that they were hopeful about the future of their careers, and 70 percent said that hope have gotten them this far through the COVID-19 pandemic (we thought it was a lot coffee and not really having a choice, but fair enough).
Veloria says that there’s a reason that people are still optimistic.
“We are part of a shift in workplace standards and culture,” she says, “being more inclusive of experiences including the working parent, providing mental health support and awareness, helping workers find work-life balance, and providing opportunities for career mobility.”
Another reason women could be optimistic? Some women have taken the pandemic—and the terrible stuff that’s come with it, like layoffs, no childcare, labor shortages, and extreme stress—to reevaluate their lives and make new career choices altogether. Some women are taking the opportunity to go back to school and get new degrees. Others are finding remote positions or jobs that work better with their schedules.
It’s clear we’re at a crossroads where changes can happen for women in education, the workforce, and at home—it’s important to be optimistic, but also to realize how many women and families are struggling on a day-to-day basis.