By Shelly Banjo

Men have not been spared, but preliminary research suggests women have been impacted disproportionately.

The pandemic has already ushered in the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. Last year, women made up the majority of the U.S. workforce for the first time in almost a decade. In March and April, they accounted for 55% of the job losses, and more than that in female-dominated sectors such as retail, travel, and hospitality, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington think tank.

Men have not been spared the pain of the pandemic, but preliminary research suggests women have been impacted disproportionately. They are losing jobs at higher rates than men, represent a greater proportion of hourly workers that don’t have paid sick leave, and are shouldering most of the additional housework and child-care duties, according to an April survey of 3,000 people conducted by Lean In and SurveyMonkey.

Even as cities and states lift lockdowns, working moms say they have no choice without sufficient child-care options other than to scale back their career ambitions, leave the workforce, or sacrifice their sleep and mental health to juggle work and full-time child care at the same time.

Since women earn about 80% of what men do, they are often the ones who end up having to make career sacrifices among dual-income, heterosexual families. Economists and labor rights advocates say those decisions could result in a catastrophic setback for women.

“Families make tough decisions when it comes to who’s going to care and provide for the family in the pandemic—and in many cases, maximizing household income means the woman stays home,” says C. Nicole Mason, chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Couple that with the disproportionate impact of job losses on women during this pandemic, and it could have a devastating economic impact on families, as well as women’s long-term earnings and career advancement.”

In the 2008 recession, the hardest-hit sectors were male-dominated industries such as construction and housing. During the recovery, says Mason, many working moms went back to school or trained in new fields to boost their earning power. That option isn’t available to many women now that child care is curtailed.

Mason says U.S. policymakers and companies now face a choice: Give up the hard-fought gains among working women, or use the pandemic to formalize policies that could help engender an equal recovery, including paid sick leave, flexible working arrangements, and child-care support.

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