In the last two weeks of March, a staggering 8.7 million Americans filed new unemployment claims as non-essential businesses shut down due to stay-at-home orders. And the industries hardest hit, like restaurants, retail stores, and hospitality businesses, are frequently staffed by majority women workers, according to statistics analyzed by Fuller Project for International Reporting.
According to the report, women in Minnesota, New Jersey, and Virginia comprised nearly two-thirds of unemployment applicants. These figures are 21 to 39 percent higher than average. In New York state, more than half of new unemployment applicants were women. These numbers are unprecedented; in the last 25 years women have never broken above 40 percent of the unemployed.
The Fuller Project found that despite stipulations for some businesses to provide paid leave “for pandemic related reasons” from the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, roughly 80 percent of workers won’t be covered by these protections—this includes the healthcare industry, hospitality businesses and restaurants, all likely to have majority women workforces.
Another new report from the National Women’s Law Center found that women who have kept their jobs among the covid-19 shutdowns are more likely to be currently living in poverty, including those healthcare workers at risk for becoming infected themselves. According to the report, women make up two-thirds of the workforce of the 40 lowest-paying jobs in America, including positions as home health aides, jobs that “routinely pay less than $12 per hour.” And women of color make up for a disproportionate amount of full-time employees still making poverty wages, leaving these groups much more vulnerable should they be forced out of their jobs for covid-19-related reasons:
“Among all women of color working full time in lowpaid jobs, 43 percent lived in or near poverty in 2018, compared to 35 percent of white, non-Hispanic women. Closer to half of Latinas (44 percent), Native American women (46 percent), and Black women (49 percent) working full time in low-paid jobs had household incomes below twice the poverty line.”
But as unemployment claims reach record highs across the country and school closings leave many women without childcare options, many states simply aren’t reporting demographic data on which of its residents are hardest hit by business and school closures, an oversight that the Fuller Project says stands to leave millions without protections in relief efforts:
“Members of Congress have already called for the release of federal data about coronavirus infections by race and ethnicity. They should also call for data that gives insight into who has lost their jobs because of the virus, and if certain groups have been left out of the relief packages that have been passed. That’s the only way they will be able to fill the gaping holes with the next round of relief.”
According to the Washington Post the nationwide average for weekly unemployment benefits was $385 a week in late March and is slated to jump to $600 in light of relief efforts. But the Fuller Project talked to Elizabeth Holt, a newly laid-off server at Applebee’s in Texas, who spoke to even harsher realities. Holt has been unable to reach a representative from the unemployment office in the two weeks she’s been attempting to collect benefits, and her husband says the family of eight can most likely only expect around $115 a week when they finally are able to file a claim. (The national average rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $1216 as of June 2019.) For Holt, no solutions seem forthcoming for navigating an uncertain new world where jobs that are traditionally available to women have disappeared, and there are no guarantees they’ll return:
“‘I have always, even as a server, paid all our bills on time, and was able to spoil our kids and give them what they needed,’ Holt said. ‘Now, nothing. No income, our rent is $972, and I don’t have a dime to pay them.’”