For three months, they held more jobs than men in the US economy — something that had only occurred one other time in history, during a short period in 2009 and early 2010.
Nevertheless, women were making gradual gains.
The pandemic quickly changed that story. And now, it just got worse.
These are net numbers, which can mask some of the underlying churn in the labor market. Of course many men lost their jobs in December, too — but when taken together as a group, they came out ahead, whereas women fell behind.
Economists often warn against reading too much into a single month, but December’s job losses capped off an already awful year for working women — particularly women of color.
“Those sectors are less likely to have flexibility, so when employers are inflexible or women can’t come to work because of caregiving responsibilities — they have to exit the workforce,” said C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Overall, women are still down 5.4 million jobs from February, before the pandemic began, as compared to 4.4 million job losses for men. They started 2020 on roughly equal footing, with women holding 50.03% of jobs, but ended it holding 860,000 fewer jobs than their male peers.
That gap is in large part due to steep job losses in three sectors: education — which remains a female-dominated industry — hospitality and retail, particularly clothing and accessories stores. All of these industries have been hammered by the pandemic.
“We don’t have the pandemic under control. Schools and day cares are still closing, and we know that’s what’s impacting women’s ability to reenter the workforce and sustain jobs,” Mason said.
In December, restaurants and bars cut the most jobs by far, and part-time workers were hit especially hard.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not release seasonally-adjusted unemployment rates for women of other racial or ethnic identities.