By Emily Peck

New signs of the nation’s expanding recovery from the pandemic crop up every day, but for millions of women in the U.S. the economic punch of COVID may never be over. Long after the face masks have been tucked away and the kids are back in school full-time, after offices reopen, jobs are regained and life returns to some semblance of normalcy, the financial fallout of the past 15 months will continue to trail these women—likely, for the rest of their working lives and throughout retirement.

More than 4.5 million fewer women are employed now than at the start of the pandemic, either through layoffs in the female-dominated industries hit hardest by the virus or because they were pushed out of work to care for children home from school or daycare. Most of these women, research shows, are now also likely to earn less—perhaps, far less—in the future. During this period, they didn’t get promotions. Or training. Or job opportunities. They lost seniority at work. And, when they return, employers are likely to regard them differently, less committed to their jobs, studies also show. These ingredients are a recipe for a lifetime of lower wages. That, in turn, will result in lower Social Security benefits and income from savings once they retire.

The potential long-term cost of this combination of losses for women—the income they’ve given up during the pandemic, plus the future income they’ll miss out on, plus reduced retirement benefits—is enormous.

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