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Research Roundup: Women Accounted for Virtually All Jobs Lost in December 2020

Following the start of the COVID-19 crisis and the quarantines and lockdowns that followed, December was the first month of overall job loss experienced in the country since businesses began to open back up and the economy began adding jobs back in May 2020. The casualties? Women.

According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), virtually all of the jobs lost in December 2020 belonged to women, showing COVID-19’s disproportionate impact based on gender and race. The NWLC analysis is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent report, which shows that the economy lost 140,000 net jobs in December. This loss equates to 2 in 5 of the 22.1 million jobs lost in March and April due to shutdowns and not returning. But the gender divide is stark. According to the report, women lost 156,000 jobs and gained 27,000 in December, whereas men lost a negligible number of positions and gained 16,000 jobs overall.

Just a year ago, there were slightly more women in the U.S. workforce than men, but in September that changed dramatically when an estimated 863,000 women exited the workforce.

The brunt of this job loss is not just on women, but specifically women of color. The NWLC reported noted that 154,000 Black women left the labor force last month. One in 12 Black women ages 20 and over (8.4%) and about 1 in 11 Latinas (9.1%) remained unemployed in December. The average unemployment rate for all women aged 20 and was  6.3%; in comparison, the unemployment rate for white men in December was 5.8%.

Unemployment numbers are even higher for women with disabilities, who had a 11.4% unemployment rate in December, up from 7.4% just a month earlier. Younger women are also suffering more job loss; in December, 9.3% of women aged 20–24 were unemployed. Younger Latinas and Black women’s unemployment rates were even higher, at 10.1% and 10.8%, respectively.

Many people have been out of work for the majority of the COVID-19 crisis that is nearing a year now. Out of all women 20 and over who were unemployed last month, nearly 40% had been without work for six months or longer. Many of those who are employed but working part-time want to be working full-time, the report shows. Nearly 16% of women 16 and over working part-time in December wanted full-time work. That number jumped to 18.3% for Asian women, 24.2% for Latinas and 21.1% Black women.

Combine all this data together and women have accounted for an overwhelming 55% of all lost jobs since February 2020.

Where the job loss is happening

  • Leisure and hospitality: This COVID-19-decimated industry lost 498,000 jobs in December alone. Women make up more than half of those employed in this sector and accounted for nearly 57% of the job losses.
  • Government: State and federal workers accounted for 45,000 lost jobs in December. Women make up 57.5% of the workforce in this sector but accounted for a staggering 91.1% of the jobs losses.
  • Retail: Another hard-hit industry, retail did manage to gain 120,500 jobs in December (primarily due to the seasonal push of holiday shopping), but despite making up 48.5% of the retail workforce, women only accounted for 44.2% of December’s gains. 

To make bad news even worse, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also noted that there has been a “misclassification error” in the household survey component of every Employment Situation Summary the group has released since March, meaning that the unemployment rate is likely as much as 0.6% higher than what was previously reported, going all the way back to when the coronavirus first took its grip on the American economy — a convenient mistake for government officials hoping to keep the stock market soaring, win elections and present the economy as being much stronger than it actually is.

The Bottom Line

We’ve known for months that women were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and this new data only further shows just how bad things have actually become.  Businesses have closed and careers in a number of industries typically occupied by women have been obliterated. Mothers have left the workforce in droves to care for their children who are attending school remotely. And because women earn less than men on average, they’re often the ones who elect to stay home.

“It’s devastating,” Emily Martin, NWLC’s vice president for education and workplace justice

told CNBC when the new report was released. “I’m concerned that it may have devastating effects for months and years to come.”

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