In April 2020, Pierce County had a 18.7 percent unemployment rate that has since dropped to 10.1 percent.1 The recovery has begun, but re-employment for women is lagging and that has repercussions not only for individuals but for our economy and for efforts to lift families out of poverty.
As the nation shut down, women saw a 38 percent greater increase in unemployment than men.2 Retail, food service and elective health care – all of which employ a greater number of women – saw significant job losses. As the economy recovers, these jobs are the slowest to return and some are gone forever.
Type of occupation is not the only factor. Lack of childcare is a growing barrier. Working mothers make up 32 percent of the workforce.3 Since February, nearly a quarter of all licensed childcare providers in Washington state have shut their doors because of the pandemic.4 As a result, more women are dropping out of the workforce to care for their children.
Why does this matter?
Our economy depends on women in the workforce. Pre-COVID, women made up nearly half of the workforce. Nearly all income gains that middle-class American families have experienced since 1970 are due to the rise in women’s earnings.5
Families depend on working mothers. Forty-one percent of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families.6 Job loss can quickly turn to poverty and homelessness. Three-quarters of families experiencing homelessness are led by single mothers.7
The loss of opportunity could have lifelong impact. Long gaps in employment decrease a woman’s lifetime income and make her less competitive in the workforce. She may never catch up.
What can we do?
Our service organization WorkSource Pierce offers training and education opportunities for women to move into jobs that are in demand in the COVID economy. We are regularly hosting virtual job fairs for companies with current openings.
Many people do not realize our support does not end when unemployment benefits run out. We are here to help people get ready for new careers and find a job. Sometimes that means career counseling, resume building, or even providing a book stipend to someone who is returning to school.
Childcare will continue to be a significant hurdle that our society must address together. Our delivery of workforce services virtually helps, as does the ability to apply and interview for jobs online. We encourage employers to be flexible in work hours, consider childcare stipends, and look for other creative solutions to make sure women are not left behind.