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How the pandemic is impacting working women

C. Nicole Mason, Institute for Women's Policy Research President and CEO, joins Kristin Myers to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has financially impacted women and their families.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Let's discuss how women have been faring throughout this pandemic. I want to bring on C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women's Policy Research to chat about this. C. Nicole, thank you so much for joining us today.

I know that we're seeing unemployment levels drop among women, which typically, I think, is something that we would all really kind of cheer about. But you guys are saying that this is actually a sign of a deeper problem. Can you highlight what that is?

C. NICOLE MASON: So women have been hit hardest since the start of the pandemic in February. We've lost-- women have lost more than two million jobs. And more than a million women have been unemployed for 26 weeks or more. So women, although we have seen some employment gains over the last couple of months, we're still not back to where we were pre-pandemic. And when we added caretaking responsibilities and some of the other challenges of women in the workforce right now, it could be a long time before we reach pre-pandemic employment levels for women.

KRISTIN MYERS: What do you see as really-- and you're kind of hinting on it here-- the long term impact that this is going to have, not just on, you know, women who both have careers and are also moms, but on their families? Because we frequently see that moms will go out there, and they'll hold it down when it comes to their jobs, and hold it down in the workplace.

But then they also come home and they have a second job, which is to be the mother and the caretaker of the home. So what do you really see as the impact being in 2021, 2022, perhaps even a decade from now for families because of this impact on women?

C. NICOLE MASON: So you're absolutely right women, including myself, are doing double duty right now. So we are holding down our full time jobs but also responsible for virtual learning, because schools across the country still remain closed, and so do daycares. So when we think about the tough choices that women have had to make-- some women, more than 800,000, have left the labor market or workforce because of this demand or dual responsibility as caretakers. And also some women are primary bread earners or breadwinners in their family.

When I think long term about the impact, especially for those women who have been hardest hit-- women in the service sector earning $40,000 or less annually-- they'll have a hard time recouping some of the losses and earnings that they-- as a result of the pandemic. And it might take them a longer time to enter the pay where they were earning before pandemic and to reach those same levels.

KRISTIN MYERS: So to that point, especially when you start talking about some of those women, at least in certain economic brackets, I think a lot of-- and this is something we've talked a lot about on this show-- something like food insecurity and insufficiencies there. How have you seen that play out throughout this pandemic, especially now? Because economic aid to families has long since run out.

That $1,200 has long been gone. It's long been spent. We, of course, now have this new package-- and I want to ask you about that in a minute. But what do you see as some of these really-- these hardships, that a lot of these women, these burdens that they've had to face, and sometimes carry by themselves?

C. NICOLE MASON: So for many women before the pandemic, they were hanging on by a thread-- many families, especially the ones that have been hit hardest during the pandemic. And the pandemic has only exacerbated their economic conditions and circumstances. So you've seen, and so have I, the food lines that have gone on for miles and stretched for miles, and families facing eviction, and housing insecurity.

And it's really important to know that women-- many women, especially women of color, are the primary breadwinners in their families-- meaning 40% or more of their income goes to the household. So when they lose income, they lose their jobs, it has a direct impact on their family's economic well-being. And so when I think about the stimulus package that just passed, it's really very disheartening, because it is not enough to make sure that families are able to stay afloat.

I mean, in fact, the stimulus checks-- or the economic impact payment was slashed by more than half. And many families, from the time the first care package was passed until now, have really been struggling to get by.

KRISTIN MYERS: What do you think that the new administration really needs to do or, perhaps, need to target and focus on to help women, to help moms going forward, especially as you're saying that this aid package was, frankly, disappointing? And as you mentioned, just as a reminder for everyone, there is going to be individual aid, but it's $600. And that's half of what we saw the first time around.

And I think folks are saying, hey, I need actually more money now than I did before, because I've been struggling now for several months throughout this pandemic's. So what then do you see as a priority, at least from this new incoming administration?

C. NICOLE MASON: So I anticipate, and we all anticipate, that there will be a robust recovery package that will come down the pipeline when the new administration is installed. And we in 2008, there was a similar recovery package. But what we know in this moment is that women have been disproportionately impacted by the layoffs and unemployment during the pandemic. So we're going to need to have targeted programs that include robust expenditures on child care and other kinds of social support-- economic and social supports that families will need in this moment.

So expanding paid sick and medical leave is also going to be really important. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-- expanding food benefits for families-- is going to be really critically important in this moment. Without schools opening and daycares opening, it's really going to be hard for women to re-enter the workforce-- and so making sure that we have economic impact payments that continue and persist throughout this COVID-fueled economic downturn.

KRISTIN MYERS: C. Nicole, I wanted to really, really quickly ask you about this interesting plan-- it's called the Marshall Plan for Moms -- where moms would actually be able to receive a paycheck of about $2,400 a month. I wonder what your thoughts are on an initiative like that.

C. NICOLE MASON: So we actually probably should be thinking about how we make sure that post-pandemic, or even as we move towards recovery, start thinking innovatively and boldly about the kinds of supports that women need. And economic impact payments, like this $2,400 that's being proposed, is one of many ideas on the table. And just to be very clear, women contribute millions and millions and billions of unpaid labor each year.

And if you were to account for that, it would be at the-- the amount of unpaid labor that women contribute to the economy yearly is astronomical. So what we're saying in this moment if we say $2,400, we're saying that we value care. We value the unpaid work often shouldered by women for taking care of their families and their children in this moment. And we also know that there's not going to be a one for one job recovery.

So many of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic will not be back. So some women will not be able to re-enter the workforce for a lot of reasons. And so we need to make sure that they have the economic supports they need to be able to take care of their families.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, thank you so much for joining us and breaking all of that down.

C. NICOLE MASON: Thank you for having me.