This article is part of a week-long series for IWPR’s signature Status of Women in the States initiative. The work featured in this series highlights the various ways the pandemic and related economic crisis are impacting women and their families at the state level. This project builds on IWPR’s recent economic recovery report that details the extent to which women, and particularly women of color, have shouldered the greatest burden of the economic crisis, and also proposes a slate of bold policies to ensure a gender-equitable recovery. The pieces included in this series provide a snapshot of what women are experiencing in states across the nation, and highlight the urgent need for federal funding for states and localities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the shuttering of business across the United States, record numbers of job losses, and an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression. Women have been most impacted by the pandemic-fueled economic downturn: women make up a majority of unemployment claimants in 42 states and one third have been out of work for more than 26 weeks. Black and Latina women are especially feeling the economic impact of the pandemic: one in four women experiencing long-term unemployment are Latina and one in five are Black. Persistent and high unemployment will affect women’s economic stability and well-being in the long term. Lost jobs and prolonged departure from the labor force, voluntarily or involuntarily, will have an effect on long-term earnings, home ownership, career advancement, and wealth accumulation for women.

The persistent race and gender pay gaps make women even more vulnerable during economic downturns and recessions, leaving women with fewer savings to cover emergencies or basic expenses when there is an unexpected loss of income or employment.

The COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on women’s ability to make ends meet. Women across the U.S. are struggling to pay for their usual household expenses, though this varies significantly by state. As shown in the map above, the share of women who report having difficulty paying bills and affording basic life goods ranges from a low of 9 percent of women in New Hampshire to a high of 23 percent of women in Mississippi and Louisiana.

  • The states with the lowest shares of women who report they are having difficulty paying bills are: New Hampshire (9 percent); Minnesota and Utah (10 percent); and South Dakota, Iowa, Connecticut, Oregon, and Maine (all 11 percent).
  • More than 1 in 5 women report difficulty paying their usual bills in 8 states: Mississippi and Louisiana (23 percent); South Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Georgia (all 21 percent); and Alabama and Delaware (20 percent).

In a number of states, women are far more likely than men to report they cannot make ends meet (see figure below). The states with the largest gaps between men and women includes Maryland, New York, Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan, among others.

Share of Women and Men who are Struggling to Cover Household Expenses

Across the country women are reporting high levels of food and housing insecurity and growing number are struggling to care for their families just as the benefits of the CARES Act are set to expire. It is clear that women across the U.S. urgently need extended and expanded unemployment insurance and direct cash payments. Women are the experts on their needs and direct cash payments would allow them to live with dignity and choice, two things that are often denied to women of color. Policymakers must also address the immediate needs facing women and families and remove the largest barriers for women’s re-entry into the workforce. A recovery package must also focus on strengthening our care and health infrastructures and increasing support for housing and food assistance. Women and families deserve to be put first.