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"A long time of backward motion" for girls within the workforce throughout COVID-19

“January 2020 was the second time that women had more jobs than men in the workforce – now, a year later, more than 2.3 million women (nationally) have retired, ”Cheryl Bergman, executive director of the Michigan Women's Commission told Michigan Advance. "Women made great strides, and a year later we see decades of backward movement."

She's not kidding about the decade-long part. The labor force participation of women is at its lowest level since 1988. Nationally, the total employment of black and Latin American women has declined much more than that of other groups.

In Michigan, women aged 20 and over had a 9.4% decline in employment during COVID-19, in stark contrast to a 2.5% decrease in men. Women had a bigger decline in employment than men in April 2020, and their unemployment peaked higher than men in May 2020, but the ongoing harm is the biggest, longer-term problem.

According to the McKinsey study, mothers were more likely to say they were pressured to work harder, burned out, and exhausted than fathers. (These are three separate categories. Mothers were higher overall.) The same is true of high-level women versus high-level men and black women versus black men. At The Lily, Caroline Kitchener reports that women in science are lagging behind in research because they take on more childcare than their male counterparts.

Policies that emerged from the pandemic must address this. Childcare is an infrastructure and needs to be treated as such – not just the buildings themselves, but the workers who employ them – by treating it as a public good similar to K-12 education or the fire departments or parks. We should say that both mothers and fathers depend on it, but the reality (of our sexist society) is that it affects women a lot more. The other reality is that women who have done so much unpaid or poorly paid nursing work for so long deserve better. The pandemic has shown us how extreme the problem is. It's time to fix the problem.

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