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Pandemic has disproportionate effect on women

We have all felt the immediate effects on our lives and the lives of our loved ones during this pandemic. Even though we are all in this together, our lives have been and will be affected differently in the post-pandemic world.

In 1918, the Spanish flu disproportionally affected young men. The deaths from the flu, along with World War I casualties, was the cause for a shortage of men in the work force in the immediate years following.

This catastrophe was an important catalyst for the women’s movement that eventually won us the vote. After the war, there was an increase of women in the work force. They wanted equal pay, an end to sex discrimination and a place at the political table.

Fast-forward 100-plus years to the current health and economic crisis we are now facing. Though everyone has suffered because of the shutdown of our economy, the effect this crisis has had on the female population will be long-lasting, crippling women’s advancements and could set women back for decades.

Women are disproportionately in jobs that offer little or no protection. Nurses, 92% female, work in hospitals, nursing homes and as home health care workers. These are all high-risk jobs and cannot be done from home. Women do three times more unpaid care work than men do. Around 2/3rds of wait staff are women earning most of their pay through tips. Pre-pandemic, women held 62% of the minimum-wage and lower-paying jobs. Over 70% of U.S. households with children rely on a woman’s income for their economic well-being and 40% of household breadwinners are women. Out of the people who have lost their jobs, 55% are women! Lost jobs usually mean lost health care. Not only have women lost their jobs and their insurance but many have lost access to reproductive health. This puts women at a higher risk for unplanned pregnancies, a huge issue economically.

Women carry 2/3rds of the outstanding student debt. Recent grads will face the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression. If they are lucky enough to land a job, over half of their jobs will offer no health insurance. We know that women entering the work force with similar education and skills as their male counterparts will be paid less. They will be faced with the decision of paying on their student loans or buying health insurance. The weight of student loan payments has forced women to delay buying a house, getting married and having children. It was this way before the virus and the virus will exacerbate the problem.

The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act is only good until Sept. 30. This act suspends loan debt payments if they are federal loans and ceases collection action and wage garnishes on all student loans in default. Once the CARES act ends, the payments must continue, whether they have a job or not.

The losses for women are staggering: increase of domestic violence, lack of reproductive health options, disproportional economic impact and, because of those issues, it obstructs women from the decision-making table.

On a brighter note, this pandemic hopefully will bring more intense awareness of the need for a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and paid maternity leave.

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