Unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women. Though times are uncertain for everyone, women and minorities are overrepresented in the unemployment data. Individuals are considered unemployed when they are “jobless, looking for a job, and available for work.” At the national and state level legislators are actively working to improve unemployment insurance through legislation to help combat the job loss effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic continues, legislators across the country are focusing their efforts on mitigating unemployment effects throughout their states’ economies.
Women are experiencing disproportionate rates of unemployment due to higher levels of layoffs and furloughs. Industries that were most impacted have been restaurants, hotels, and retail stores which have historically been industries that hire more women. Retail stores have seen a 61% reduction in employment. The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the progress that women have made in the workforce over the past few decades and could anticipate slow growth once the pandemic is over. Many of the jobs that were lost by women are in industries some professionals believe will recover quickly, but much of the public will continue to be apprehensive to return to normal spending patterns.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the highest rates of unemployment since the Great Depression. Unemployment rates started increasing in the beginning of 2020. Economists watched unemployment rates rise from 3.1% in February to 15% in April. In March approximately 700,00 jobs were lost and 60% of these job losses were experienced by women. In April, 20.5 million jobs were lost and women experienced an unemployment rate of 16.2%, while men experienced unemployment rates of 13.5%. Women, particularly minority women, were overrepresented in these numbers. African American women experienced an unemployment rate of 16.4% and Hispanic women faced a 20.2% unemployment rate.
Long-term unemployment disproportionately impacts single mothers in the United States. There are roughly 60 million single mothers across the country. Many single mothers rely on schools and daycare centers to provide education and childcare while they work to support themselves and their children. The CDC has recommended limiting contact with vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. Consequently, many single mothers who could not afford childcare, can no longer rely on grandparents to help provide care for their children. As states begin to reopen, the lack of available childcare will likely become a barrier to the reentry of single mothers into the workforce, thus allowing for prolonged levels of unemployment. Nationally, single mothers account for 7.5% of the population with peak numbers in Louisiana at 11.67% and Mississippi at 13.1% in 2018.
Legislators at the national and state level are introducing legislation to address concerns around employment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers in California enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which allocates approximately $120 million dollars into the state’s unemployment fund. In addition, it also adds 13 weeks to federally funded programs. Illinois has introduced legislation to extend federally funded programs by 13 weeks as well. Many states such as Arizona, California, South Carolina and Texas have waived the work search requirement for receiving unemployment to assist residents facing financial hardship.