Women have been affected across the board, losing jobs at disproportionate rates in most industries and returning to the workforce slower than their male colleagues—even in sectors where employment levels have been essentially gender neutral. In retail, for instance, women held 50% of pre-COVID jobs. But they suffered 60% of the industry’s losses through April and accounted for only 49% of the gains in May. Similarly, in professional and business services, where women represented 46% of the industry, they endured more than half of the losses through April and accounted for only a third of the gains in May.

Policy experts say this is largely a consequence of women having to juggle employment and caring for family in a country with an inadequate social support system. Regardless of the industry in which they work, women have been impacted by the closures of schools and childcare—which was not a major issue in prior recessions.

“What do you do when stay-at-home orders are lifted but there is no school or camp?” asks Nicole Mason, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “If you are in the service sector, where if you don’t show up, you don’t get paid—those are the calculations women are making.”

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