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The COVID-19 Pandemic Forced Millions of Women Out of Work



COVID-19 was declared to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 13, 2020. Not long after the declaration, cities and states started shutting down entire segments of their economies. Childcare centers, adult daycare centers, restaurants, bars, non-essential retail establishments, gyms and schools were closed in the government’s effort to slow the spread of the disease and prevent serious fallout to the healthcare system. Most of the jobs that were furloughed, lost or eliminated were held by women. As the economy has made a slow recovery, not all of those jobs have returned. This leaves many women wondering whether or not there will be a job to go back to once schools can safely open and the pandemic is no longer spreading at a rapid pace.

Women Wonder What the Job Market Will Look Like

As of January 29, there are 3,000,000 fewer jobs in the American economy than there were one year ago. The pandemic pushed more women out of the workforce than men. Women, especially mothers, felt obligated to leave their jobs once schools and childcare centers closed. They may not have had a choice, or the choice may have been the lesser of two terrible options. These women are now doubting whether or not there will be a job to go to when the pandemic winds down or when schools and childcare centers resume normal operations.

What the Economists Have to Say About the Job Outlook for Women

For many months, economists across the United States and around the world have argued that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women. Women left the workforce as a result of layoffs and shutdowns, but they also had to do it out of a matter of necessity. A toddler can’t be left alone at home, and a kindergartener whose school shut down can’t be expected to coordinate the learning, scheduling and technology required to learn at home. Women have gone from paid work in the labor force to unpaid work as tutors, information technology specialists, teachers and managers at home.

What Could Happen When the Pandemic Fizzles

North Carolina economists think they know what will happen when enough people have immunity to COVID-19 and schools are able to reopen and resume their usual operations. They think that North Carolina, as well as other states, will be facing a problem of dislocated jobs. Buying patterns have changed, with more people shopping online and having essentials delivered. Businesses are using more technology and fewer people to do the same work. Some workers just won’t have a job to go back to in the same industry.

Jobs Held By Women Are in Uncertain Economic Sectors

Many of the jobs held by women are in sectors of the economy that are easily disrupted by social, cultural and health issues. For example, the hospitality industry can be impacted by natural disasters, terrorism, economic recessions and disease. In the past five recessions, men were more impacted by women. This is the first recession in a long time that has had a bigger impact on women than on men.

Women Face the Perfect Storm

Women usually do more childcare and eldercare than men. This combination has caused a lot of women to drop out of the paid workforce by necessity. When adult and child daycare centers closed, their clients had to stay home. If these people can’t stay home alone safely, somebody has to be with them, and that role is usually filled by an unpaid woman in the family.

Labor Statistics in the United States

There were 30.1 million male and 29.1 million female workers between the ages of 18 and 55 with at least one child at home in January 2020. In October 2020, there were 2.2 million fewer women working than were working in October 2019. Women had to choose between paying for an expensive in-home nanny or au pair once daycare centers closed or to quit their jobs and care for their kids. A lot of women picked the latter of the two options. With in-home childcare averaging $1,230 for full-time services for one child per month, most of the women who left the labor force simply couldn’t afford to work. About 15% of the low-wage workers are single parents. One out of every four working women has a child under the age of 14 at home.

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