‘Two steps forward, one step back’: Omicron threatens new economic slide for women

Sudden college closures and reinstated lockdowns, on prime of a crippled youngster care business, might reverse what progress women have made because the pandemic abated earlier this yr. Not solely are women extra prone to shoulder most caregiving tasks of their households, however their jobs are extremely concentrated within the companies most susceptible to restrictions and accompanying job losses.

“We see a ‘two steps ahead, one step again’ form of pattern” with “each wave of Covid that comes, the place women make some inroads over the summer time, or in between waves of Covid,” Alicia Sasser Modestino, an economics professor at Northeastern College, stated. “After which the following stretch of rubber hitting the highway places the brakes on that.”

As of November, women accounted for greater than 62 p.c of the pandemic-related employment hole U.S. — the distinction between present employment ranges and what they’d have been if the pandemic hadn’t occurred, in line with an evaluation of unpublished BLS numbers by Heritage Basis economist Rachel Greszler.


That hole started to slim round March, Greszler stated. However then, “it began to say no or at the very least flattened out whereas males’s continued to enhance.”

Democrats have pointed to the so-called shecession as a reason to pass their $1.7 trillion social spending package, which incorporates billions for paid go away, youngster care and extra. However the bulk of the assistance would not are available time for the women who want it most. And that’s if they’ll clear it: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose vote is crucial to enactment, stated lately that he couldn’t help the laws in its present kind.

“We’re constructing again higher with women,” Democratic Women’s Caucus Chair Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) stated, alluding to the title of President Joe Biden’s stalled plan. “The infrastructure invoice, which we handed, which is fabulous — I’ve solely acquired good issues to say about it — most of these jobs are going to go to males.”

“Construct Again Higher has the roles for the women.”

If women’s employment continues to lag, economists warn that it might widen the gender pay hole. Some women may have been out of the workforce so lengthy they may have problem catching up.

Although the pay hole held largely regular in 2020, males’s wages have this yr grown quicker than women’s. Weekly median earnings for women elevated by 1.8 p.c between the primary and third quarter of 2021, according to a POLITICO analysis of BLS data, whereas males’s grew by 2.3 p.c.

Gaps on women’s resumes might, in the long term, worsen the issue, economists warn.

“There may be going to be some everlasting scarring to the pandemic,” Kathryn Edwards, an economist on the RAND Company, stated. “That is going to be true for males in addition to women, however women are simply extra adversely affected due to their occupation and their childcare.”

Greater than 74 p.c of well being care practitioners are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women make up greater than 98 p.c of all elementary and center college academics; 70 p.c of all waiters; and 94 p.c of all youngster care employees.

The truth that women earn lower than males — 84 p.c of what their male counterparts make, according to Pew Research Center — signifies that if one dad or mum has to depart work to care for a baby, it probably makes most monetary sense for it to be the lady.

Day trip of the workforce apart, extra women may additionally wind up working remotely, notably if Omicron prompts one other spherical of college and office shutdowns, Sasser Modestino stated, which might deprive them of in-person alternatives and change into “a very massive limiting issue going ahead when it comes to women’s development.”

“There’s really bigger hidden prices that we’ve not even but documented within the sense of not simply women taking extra outing of the labor market,” however in “the long term,” Sasser Modestino stated. “As a result of whilst this strikes from pandemic to endemic, it is gone on so lengthy, we actually have modified the way in which that work is finished.”

“There is a second class citizenry that’s growing when it comes to the parents who will not be going to be in particular person, and that is largely going to be women,” she added. “Which means you are going to be lacking out on these literal water cooler conversations about: The place’s the following promotion? The place’s the following alternative?”


If Congress enacts some type of Construct Again Higher that features investments in care, women gained’t be capable to reap most advantages for years — not to mention in time to melt Omicron’s blow. The kid care business have to be scaled up, and a paid go away program — if it’s included — would should be constructed from scratch.

However it might tackle among the structural inequities that brought on the pandemic to hit women so exhausting, supporters say.

“The hope is that we shore it up in the long term so if one thing like this occurs once more, we gained’t be in the identical scenario,” Elise Gould, an economist on the liberal-leaning Economic Coverage Institute, stated. “The pandemic solely worsened the outcomes of what’s already in existence.”

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