US economy lost 140K net jobs in December, and they were all women's

KLH49/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — The United States economy lost a net 140,000 jobs in December, and all of them were women’s jobs, U.S. employment figures show.

While women lost 156,000 jobs last month, men gained 16,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The job losses for women in the final month of 2020 cap off a dismal year for women in the labor force amid the coronavirus pandemic.

There were nearly 2.1 million fewer women in the labor force in December than there were in February, before the pandemic started, according to an analysis of BLS data by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), a policy-focused organization that fights for gender justice.

“We’re now at a labor force participation rate [for women] that we haven’t seen for 30 years,” Jasmine Tucker, NWLC’s director of research, told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “It’s just blow after blow. How much more can women take, really?”

The December job losses for women were brought on largely by the hard-hit leisure and hospitality sectors, as they have been throughout the pandemic, according to Tucker.

Even though women make up 53% of the workforce in those sectors, they lost almost 57% of the jobs, a discrepancy that is seen similarly across several sectors, she noted.

“Women are also underrepresented in job gains,” said Tucker. “These little discrepancies are all adding up to women being left behind.”

Women of color are being disproportionately left behind, data shows.

More than 150,000 Black women left the labor force in December, their largest one-month drop in labor force size since last spring, according to the NWLC.

Systemic factors like the gender wage gap and racism and sexism are also making it harder for women, and women of color, to bounce back from this recession, which has been called a “she-cession” because of its impact on women, explained Tucker.

With so many people out of work, the job market is an employers’ market, which will likely make it harder for women to be hired and to be paid the wages they deserve.

Of the 12.1 million women’s jobs lost between February and April, more than two in five have not yet returned, according to the NWLC. Tucker noted there are at least two people looking for every job that exists in the current labor market.

Women are also bearing the brunt of childcare demands during the pandemic, which is putting many women out of the workforce. Women ages 25 to 44 are almost three times as likely as men of the same age group to not be working due to childcare demands during the pandemic, according to research from the U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve.

“The typical woman is already staying unemployed for two weeks longer than the typical man, and for women of color, it’s even longer,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard for them to come back, and when they do come back, especially women of color, they’re going to take the first thing that comes along because they don’t have the savings to wait.”

“They need to pay their rent and put food on the table, where maybe a white man who was being paid fairly this whole time might be able to wait a little longer for a higher paying job,” added Tucker. “It’s going to have reverberations for their financial status for a long time.”

Tucker and other experts are already bracing for the next jobs report, which may see even more job losses for women with the end of the holiday retail spike and potential new lockdowns and temporary school closings due to continued increases in COVID-19 cases.

Even when women start to see job gains, the road ahead to even just return to their pre-pandemic levels of pay and labor force participation is a long and difficult one with “huge ripple effects,” according to Tucker.

“It’s going to compound,” she said. “Women are not going to be able to hold out for a job that pays at the same rate or higher than the one they held previously, and that’s going to impact what they can put away for retirement, what they can save, if they can buy a house, their Social Security benefit.”

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