'I don't know how I can survive.' Women have been hit hardest by COVID's economic toll

Margot Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Alejandra Siciliano was terrified of catching COVID-19 while working as a hotel housekeeper. Laid off in March, now she prays for any job to pay the bills.

Jamie Eagen has been home-schooling her 8-year-old throughout the pandemic. The single mother and former office manager needs to work, but then who would care for her daughter?

Janae Franklin, a corporate manager who turned to food stamps after being laid off, has gained a new perspective on work.

The pandemic made her “do some soul-searching,” Franklin said, and even though loved ones urge her to seize any available job, she’s decided to give entrepreneurship a try.

Before the virus took hold, Californians of both sexes enjoyed the same low unemployment rate, 4.1%. But in the last year, women have suffered more: 12% have lost jobs statewide, compared with 10.4% of men.

And as the nation struggles to reopen, many women are grappling with troubling questions: Is it safe to return to work? Can I find a comparable position? What about my unvaccinated children? Do I really want to do what I was doing before?


Economists call it a COVID-19 “shecession,” with disturbing consequences for the American workforce after decades of hard-earned gains by working women.

“No one believes the new normal is going to be exactly like things were before,” said María J. Prados, a USC economist who sees the pandemic as a major setback to the struggle for workplace equality.

Unlike the recession of 2007-2008, when male-dominated sectors such as construction and manufacturing suffered the largest losses, the pandemic-driven recession has especially scythed through service occupations that women tend to hold, such as hairdressing and housekeeping.

A swath of white-collar jobs survived over the last year as lawyers, accountants and software developers worked from home. If they continue to do so, many jobs for women in janitorial companies, restaurants and retailers serving office workers may disappear, economists say.


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