Shutting down non-essential businesses to stop the spread of COVID-19 has had an unintended impact on a cornerstone of the U.S. economy—working women.

Before the pandemic, women accounted for just over 50% of workers and were the fastest growing segment of a strong labor market. But the economic shutdown disproportionately affected female wage earners, who dominate the workforce in industries shuttered by the pandemic. Take the service industry for example:

Chart - women in the American workforce

That’s why the September unemployment rate stood at 8.0% for women, compared to 7.7% for men, and why some pundits are calling the COVID-19 recession a “she-cession.”

Another looming problem for women is childcare. During the pandemic, working moms have reduced their workweek by an average of four to six hours to assume more childcare responsibilities. With many schools moving to online learning, the childcare problem is only getting tougher. Finding care for toddlers is worse. The Center for American Progress found that half of childcare slots were lost. Additionally, the center calculated that one in four childcare providers, which were mostly women, have lost their jobs since the beginning of this year.

Getting these women back to work is critical to a sustained recovery from the pandemic and future economic success. And that all depends on developing an effective, safe vaccine. Let’s hope this occurs by mid-2021.

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