Story at a glance

  • Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, the unemployment rate drastically risen.
  • Women account for much of the increase in job losses, according to new government numbers.
  • The industries women tend to work in, as well as child care, could contribute to the high unemployment rate among women.

At the beginning of 2020, women had taken a step forward to outnumber men in the nonfarm workforce, according to reporting by NPR, but since the coronavirus pandemic, they've taken two steps back. 


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Women accounted for 55 percent of the increase in job losses last month, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The total unemployment rate for women is now 16.2 percent, compared to a 13.5 percent unemployment rate for men. 

Older women in particular have been hit hard by unemployment. In April, the unemployment rate for women 55 and older was 15.5 percent, nearly five times what it was just one month earlier. The rate of unemployment is higher with older women than both older men and the overall population of older workers, which have also increased.


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Part of the explanation for the discrepancy relates to the types of jobs women have. Women dominate the leisure and hospitality industry and are heavily represented in the retail industry as well, which have both taken massive hits due to the closure of businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. 

With schools closed, an increased need for child care may also contribute to the high rate of unemployment. 

"You have 60 million single moms in the United States and many of them have no alternative child care, especially now that grandparents are not supposed to come over anymore," Matthias Doepke, professor of economics at Northwestern University, told NPR. "And so for many of them, it's simply not possible to work again. So there will be forced unemployment because of child care."

Even for two-parent households, research shows that the brunt of child care responsibilities often falls on women. Mothers who were unable to find a child care program were significantly less likely to be employed than those who found a child care program, but there was little to no impact on fathers’ employment, according to the 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation Survey.


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Published on May 15, 2020