If you’re a woman, you probably know what it feels like to balance work, childcare, housework, and your own wellbeing. It’s a lot all at once. It can be even more difficult, however, if you no longer have to juggle work as part of your duties, but still need an income.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, women have lost their jobs more often than men. This is partly explained by the fact that women are more likely to work in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, including retail, hotels, hospitality, childcare and health care. And it’s also because some women have been forced to take on more of the caring burden for their children and families because schools have closed.
Without sufficient income, it is difficult to pay for staples such as groceries, shelter, utilities, health insurance and medical care, let alone internet access for your children’s virtual education.
To provide economic relief to individuals and small businesses hard hit by the pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Aid and Economic Security Act (CARES) last March. CARES included one-time cash payments, increased unemployment benefits, and forgivable small business loans – and has been a lifeline for many Americans. Under the law, people who are generally not entitled to benefits, including gig workers and freelancers, could get them. A second law, the Cares Act 2.0, was passed in April to provide additional funding and support to small businesses and nonprofit hospitals.
Unfortunately, in July, CARES ‘weekly unemployment benefit supplementation of $ 600 ended, leaving their states receiving an average of just $ 321 per week for those still in need of regular unemployment benefits.
Now the situation is set to get even worse: At the end of 2020, the CARES law unemployment programs for gig workers and freelancers will expire, meaning 13 million people could lose their benefits.
While people of any gender are suffering from reduced benefits, women disproportionately affected by the pandemic are desperate for economic support. We need a new stimulus package – and we literally cannot afford to wait.
Women are hit harder than men
Between January and October this year, 2.2 million women (compared to 1.5 million men) either lost their jobs or stopped looking for work. According to an analysis by the Washington Post, mothers of school-age children were one-third more likely than their male counterparts to lose employment or leave work altogether. And they return to work much more slowly. Women of all income levels in all industries and sectors have had to quit their jobs to stay home and look after their children.
And as bad as it is for women, it is just as bad for women with color. Between January and September, the unemployment rate for white women rose from 3.0% to 5.9%, according to the Economic Policy Institute, compared with 5.6% to 9.9% for black women and 4.6% to 10.2 % for Hispanic women.
Women and the gig economy
Women make up 39.3% of the self-employed in America. These women are part of the gig economy, which is defined by workers who have freelance jobs or short-term contracts, as opposed to permanent, paid positions. Gig workers were hardest hit by the pandemic due to safety concerns or a drop in demand.
With the end of gig worker and freelance unemployment programs, the federal government is essentially pulling the carpet out of the millions of people who need help most – caregivers, single mothers, and women in general.
What’s stopping it from giving women the support they need?
Unfortunately, stimulus financing is heavily politicized and has been on hold since May. But now is not the time for partisan behavior. With the next stimulus package pending, Americans – women in particular – have suffered.
An important provision of the first CARES bill included direct cash payments to help Americans bear the financial burden of the pandemic. These payments – known as Economic Impact Payments – were $ 1,200 for individual taxpayers or $ 2,400 for those filing collectively, plus $ 500 for each eligible child.
In August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that of households that received or expected to receive a stimulus check in June, the majority (59%) said they would use the money towards basic costs. Unsurprisingly, that percentage skyrocketed for those at the bottom of the income spectrum. In households making less than $ 25,000, 77% are expected to use the payment for the basic cost. But even among those earning a comfortable income ($ 75,000 to $ 99,000), a majority (58%) planned to use the payment for essentials.
If the government expects women to contribute to the economy while doing most of the childcare and housework, Congress must step in immediately and extend unemployment benefits into the New Year – including gig workers. Congress must also provide provisions to assist those involved with rents and mortgages due. And lawmakers must address food shortages, childcare needs, lack of internet connectivity and educational disparities – minority children in low-income families, in particular, could have a huge learning gap.
Health care disparities are another pressing problem. Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) temporarily expanded Medicare coverage in March, some benefits (including telemedicine benefits) have now expired or been withdrawn by private insurers. Telehealth was particularly important in accessing mental health needs during the pandemic, and it can help address disparities among vulnerable populations, including those on low incomes or underinsured people. Now is not the time to make access difficult.
Currently, there appears to be bipartisan support for a new $ 908 billion economic relief proposal that combines components of previous proposals by Democrats and Republicans. If passed, this proposal could extend unemployment benefits, help small businesses, and fund myriad other measures such as funding for education, nutrition, housing and rent support.
While it won’t address everything women need, it is still much-needed emergency relief. And if relief doesn’t come, millions of people – many of them women – will face homelessness, hunger and increasing hardship by the beginning of 2021.
To meet the far-reaching needs of Americans, our government must adopt a new, comprehensive stimulus package. Now.