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Pandemic Recession Hit Harder Among Women And Less Educated Workers, Study Finds

The state unemployment rate is going down, which means out-of-work Missourians are no longer eligible for federal extended employment benefits.
Nat Thomas
St. Louis Public Radio
The state unemployment rate is going down, which means out-of-work Missourians are no longer eligible for federal extended employment benefits.

Washington University researchers say women could be in trouble financially for years to come because of significant job losses during the crisis.

Black and Hispanic women and less educated workers suffered the most economically during the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers involved in a new study from Washington University say women could be in trouble financially for years to come because of significant job losses during the crisis.

"We have to be somewhat concerned that the larger inequality effects of the current crisis could have these persistent impacts on wages and on career progress in all the groups that are disproportionately affected,” said Steven Fazzari, a professor of economics and sociology at Wash U who co-authored the study.

The study was based on unemployment data from the U.S. Department of Labor since February 2020. Researchers examined how unemployment increased for certain groups and how long the job losses lasted. Researchers also looked at how unemployment affected gender, race, age and ethnicity during the current crisis compared to the Great Recession in the mid-2000s.

The study found that women were hurt more during the COVID-19 economic downturn than they were during the Great Recession. Men were more affected during the Great Recession because construction, durable goods and manufacturing industries — sectors usually dominated by men — collapsed in the mid-2000s. During the pandemic, the restaurant, travel and health care industries lost many workers. Those sectors tend to employ more women than men. Though Hispanic and Black women lost a substantial number of jobs during the COVID-19 recession, they were not the people hit hardest during the Great Recession.

During the Great Recession, Black women experienced 6% more job loss, given their share in the workforce. But during the pandemic, they experienced 45% more job loss. In the Great Recession, Hispanic women had 9% more job loss, compared to 63% during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We wanted to look at this more rigorously, recognizing that different demographic groups have very different shares in the workforce, that different demographic groups have different trends over time,” said Ella Needler, a senior studying economics and finance at Washington University and co-author of the study.

Both Fazzari and Needler were not surprised that minority women were hit the hardest this time around. Needler said the difference in educational attainment influenced whether or not someone was likely to have lost their job.

People without a high school diploma were twice as likely to lose their jobs compared to those who had a college degree. Researchers also used data to look at the effects of the recession on the youngest working age group, those 16 to 24, which includes people who have a high school education or less.

Service industry jobs tend to employ more people with lower education attainment. As the service economy closed, so too did the jobs.

Needler is worried that women’s lack of participation in the paid labor force for a prolonged period of time could set them back financially for years.

"The crisis has been an unusual one, and it may be that the bounce back is faster. But one has to be concerned that, with the substantially greater effect of this recession on female labor force participation and female jobs, that the effect on wages and promotions and career progress could be more compromised for women because of this recession than in other recessions," Fazzari said.

Fazzari said it is difficult to determine how long the effects of the crisis will hurt Black and Hispanic women and less educated workers, but it is expected to last longer than the setback from the Great Recession.

"We might see these employment losses declining, hopefully that will be the case. But there have traditionally been longer-term effects,” Fazzari said. “How long? One year, two years, five years, 10 years. It's hard to pin that down specifically, but it usually goes beyond just the incidence of unemployment."

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Andrea Henderson joined St. Louis Public Radio in March 2019, where she covers race, identity and culture as part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America. Andrea comes to St. Louis Public Radio from NPR, where she reported for the race and culture podcast Code Switch and produced pieces for All Things Considered. Andrea’s passion for storytelling began at a weekly newspaper in her hometown of Houston, Texas, where she covered a wide variety of stories including hurricanes, transportation and Barack Obama’s 2009 Presidential Inauguration. Her art appreciation allowed her to cover arts and culture for the Houston African-American business publication, Empower Magazine. She also covered the arts for Syracuse’s Post-Standard and The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina.
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