Editorial: COVID recession is setting back mothers

The coronavirus has killed 107,472 men in America, and just (just!) 91,332 women (as of Oct. 3).

But the virus’ economic impacts here are being disproportionately borne by women, who made up 46% of the U.S. workforce pre-pandemic, but account for 54% of jobs lost since the recession began. In September alone, married women lost 1.2 million jobs, while single men gained 1 million jobs.

Why? It’s simple and it’s complicated. Industries and sectors with the greatest job losses tended to be low-wage and service jobs, disproportionately held by women. Meanwhile, hamstrung by closed schools and cut off from accessing outside child care, adult women with children are dropping out of the workforce or scaling back hours at drastically higher rates than working fathers, to help shoulder family responsibilities. The COVID-19 pandemic may have erased a generation’s worth of hard-won progress in closing persistent gender disparities in pay.

So it’s probably little coincidence that Donald Trump, the man responsible for America’s shambolic virus response, is faring poorly in the presidential race among the female electorate.

Trump never fully won over American women, 54% of whom voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Every day since, he’s further alienated female voters. America is still the only major industrialized nation without a national paid parental leave policy. Even before the pandemic, he’d done little to address rising child care, education and health insurance costs — issues that men and women alike care about, but that are now front of mind for mothers who’ve seen their jobs and employer-based insurance go up in smoke.

The longer the pandemic and economic crisis endure, the more all Americans, but especially women, will suffer economically. The current occupant of the White House deserves a sizable share of the blame, but voting him out won’t undo the damage. Only far-sighted policy changes can.

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