COVID-19 pandemic causes first-ever ‘shecession’

In January 2020, women outnumbered men in the workforce for the second time in U.S. history. Betsey Stevenson, an economic adviser of the Obama administration, called this a milestone that “heralded the future [of women’s employment].” 

However, in January 2021, women’s labor force participation reached 57 percent, the lowest it has been since 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

While the pandemic has negatively affected many Americans financially, women have been disproportionately affected. According to, women have lost 5.4 million jobs in the past year, nearly one million more jobs than men. Dr. C. Nicole Mason, President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, has labeled the pandemic’s impact on women in the workforce a “shecession.” 

Since more women work in industries that were disproportionately hurt by the pandemic, such as retail, child care and hospitality, they were forced to leave at a much higher rate than men. This loss of jobs has been detrimental to many families because they have lost a sum of their income. 

Women have also left their jobs because of an increased need for child care at home as a result of school closings. Many mothers have been forced to stay home to take care of their children, help with schoolwork and run the household. 

Women who have been able to keep their jobs are feeling pressure from work as well as dealing with the added responsibilities at home that have fallen upon them. Marisa Milas, an Italian teacher at WHS with a five-year-old daughter in preschool, has experienced the stress of teaching while trying to help her daughter with online school. She said, “Managing my own classes with a preschool class was a lot. My husband and I took turns getting her situated on the computer and helping her along. There are some days that she just had to miss class. It was very difficult.”

WHS Spanish Teacher Bonnie Underwood, who recently returned to teaching after maternity leave, also shared a similar experience. She said, “There was definitely a learning curve at the beginning of the school year trying to help our two older kids do their virtual learning and also looking after the babies. Thankfully, our district offered the remote teaching option to teachers with child care issues, which was very helpful.”

The pandemic has seemingly turned back time and revived outdated gender roles that many women fought to change. According to, women are once again doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and are expected to be the primary child care providers. This downturn in women’s employment and return to traditional gender roles comes after women have made substantial strides in the last few years to close the gender pay gap, and the pandemic threatens to reverse these advancements.  

Even when women return to the workforce after the pandemic ends, they may face resistance and disadvantages. When employees leave, even temporarily, it is difficult for them to jump back in for a variety of reasons. For example, women who return to their previous job may find that their position was filled. Also, women trying to find a new job will be at a disadvantage since they took time off. They may lack experience valued by employers in the hiring process, and even after they find a job, they may be less likely to receive promotions. 

Martha Gimbel, a labor economist for Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative program, said, “The problem is that we have a lot of evidence that when you take time out of the labor force, it can be very difficult to get back in.” When women leave their jobs, they are falling behind their male counterparts, and this will exacerbate problems like the wage gap and the glass ceiling, creating yet another obstacle standing in the way.

Although the pandemic has been challenging for working mothers and women who lost their jobs, many remain optimistic for life after the pandemic and a return to “normal.” Underwood said, “[this past year] has been a really good lesson in resilience and positivity for all of us.”