Pandemic puts limits on working women

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The pandemic has waged war on working women across the economic spectrum who have . suffered more pandemic-related job losses than men, according to local and national reports. Women-dominated fields such as retail, child care, leisure and hospitality have been especially hard hit. With the start of the school year in September, 865,000 women left the workforce, said C. Nicole Mason, . president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and a lot of that had to do with caretaking responsibilities. Black and Latina women are especially vulnerable to the economic impacts of the pandemic. About 1 in 11 Black women and 1 in 12 Latinas remained unemployed even after women as a whole gained more than 60% of the jobs added to the economy in November. “People are saying women are dropping out of the labor force. No. They are being pushed,” said Melissa Boteach, Vice President for Income Security and Child Care/Early Learning for the National Women’s Law Center. President-elect Joe Biden has outlined an ambitious $7 trillion recovery plan that promises to address the gender and . racial inequities that have left so many women vulnerable in the pandemic. That plan includes providing aid to state and local governments to avoid layoffs, extending crisis unemployment insurance, and improving access to child and eldercare

When Charlotte Stroud lost her job for the second time in six months, she lost her income, her insurance benefits and the hospitality industry career she had spent more than 30 years building.

The losses were casualties of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of countless people, particularly women like Stroud who have been among the hardest hit by the fallout and the longest to recover from COVID-related job losses.

“I know the field that I am in is not going to come back right away, and if it does, it is going to be different,” said Stroud, 53, who oversaw and scheduled banquets for the Atlanta Marriott Buckhead Hotel and Conference Center. “I will have go into a new job or a new direction.”

Furloughed in March, Stroud returned in August to a new position and employee training to serve as an all-purpose manager for the restaurant, bar, front desk and housekeeping. Then came the news in October. “We had three days’ notice that all the guests had to leave the hotel,” said Stroud.

Stroud receives unemployment, which helps offset her lost income, and she was able to secure insurance through the marketplace for her retired husband and 19-year-old daughter in college.

But her future work life is unclear.

The pandemic has waged war on working women across the economic spectrum who have suffered more pandemic-related job losses than men, according to local and national reports. Women-dominated fields such as retail, child care, leisure and hospitality — which traditionally offer lower pay, less flexibility and fewer benefits — have been especially hard hit. Younger women and women of color, disproportionately represented in those sectors, are feeling the most immediate impacts, and experts have said the recovery will require new strategies unlike those used in any past economic crisis.

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“This is the first time in U.S. history an economic downturn has disproportionately impacted women. That makes this a really unique moment,” said C. Nicole Mason, president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which addresses pay equity, economic policies, and research impacting women.

Slightly more women than men in metro Atlanta, 25% vs. 22% respectively, report being laid off, terminated or furloughed due to COVID-19; while more men (47%) than women (43%) report having reduced hours, reduced wages or quitting for safety reasons, according to a recent survey from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

With the start of the school year in September, 865,000 women left the workforce, said Mason, and a lot of that had to do with caretaking responsibilities. “Women are put in the unfortunate predicament of having to choose between earning a living and taking care of their families,” she said. “The misnomer is that women exiting the workforce are well off or have a husband or savings. It is just not true.”

Jaycina Almond, founder of the Tender Foundation, gives an instruction to a volunteer at The Reverie, a co-working studio for women, in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Jaycina Almond, founder of the Tender Foundation, gives an instruction to a volunteer at The Reverie, a co-working studio for women, in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Jaycina Almond, 25, a single mother and model who launched the Tender Foundation in January to provide emergency aid to other single mothers in metro Atlanta, said about 64% of the requests for assistance are from unemployed mothers forced to quit working due to lack of child care.

As a young mother, Almond knew the challenges that came with single parenting, and as her financial situation improved, she vowed to help other women who looked like her and her daughter find their footing. “I realized that my peers ... didn’t have the same access to resources that I had,” she said.

With the COVID shutdown, Almond went from traveling 11 months per year for work to being homebound. Though she was financially able to care for her family, Almond, who has an autoimmune disease, did not have viable child care options after pulling her 3-year-old daughter from day care. “I am her primary caregiver,” said Almond. “I spend 24/7 each day with her, so I haven’t been able to travel for work even for the few jobs that have popped up.”

The foundation, operating with grants, crowdfunding and other fundraising, saw requests for assistance double in late summer to serve more than 250 women. Some moms just need an extra push while others are dealing with catastrophic circumstances that will take more time to overcome, Almond said. “For a family that has been living on the poverty line, COVID has only stressed that. It is hard to say when it will get better,” she said.

Jaycina Almond (left), founder of the Tender Foundation, hands items to volunteer Diana Owens, who will deliver them to a mother in need, at The Reverie, a co-working studio for women, in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Jaycina Almond (left), founder of the Tender Foundation, hands items to volunteer Diana Owens, who will deliver them to a mother in need, at The Reverie, a co-working studio for women, in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Black and Latina women are especially vulnerable to the economic impacts of the pandemic. About 1 in 11 Black women and 1 in 12 Latinas remained unemployed even after women as a whole gained more than 60% of the jobs added to the economy in November, according to data from the National Women’s Law Center.

Though she has remained employed as a senior vice president in the banking industry, Daniela Demaria, 51, a divorced mother of two teen boys, has felt the stress of working and managing home schooling as a single parent. At one point, her sons returned to school, but she recently withdrew them due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Having everyone at home requires sticking to a schedule, she said. Her days begin at 5 a.m. while her children are still sleeping. She exercises then enjoys a cup of coffee while planning her workday. After breakfast, they each go to their respective workspaces. She created stations stocked with snacks and school supplies in case her sons need items throughout the day to help minimize distractions so she can be more productive at work.

“I am the main caregiver. I don’t have an option. Like it or not, your productivity is not going to be at the same level, and it sucks because ultimately it can impact my career,” Demaria said. “Eventually we are going to have to evolve in the way that we look at work life, kids and working parents. It was very clear during the pandemic that the expectation is just on the moms.”

Gigi Pedraza, founder and executive director of the Latino Community Fund, said many Latinas are not just at home caring for children but also sick relatives.

Maria del Rosario Palacios of Gainesville recently described how the virus impacted her family during an event at the state Capitol with other members of COVID Survivors for Change. Palacios, a mother of three whose own mother contracted COVID-19 in June from her job at a poultry plant, had no choice but to quarantine in a room with her sick mother in order to provide her with the proper care. “It was not easy to care for myself, to care for my mother and then to experience months later, my own children getting sick,” Palacios said.

“People are saying women are dropping out of the labor force. No. They are being pushed,” said Melissa Boteach, Vice President for Income Security and Child Care/Early Learning for the National Women’s Law Center. “We are exacerbating gender and racial wage gaps and erasing the progress we have started to make there. We need relief that matches the scale of the problems.”

President-elect Joe Biden has outlined an ambitious $7 trillion recovery plan that promises to address the gender and racial inequities that have left so many women vulnerable in the pandemic. That plan includes providing aid to state and local governments to avoid layoffs, extending crisis unemployment insurance and improving access to child and elder care. His plan would also establish a comeback package for small businesses and entrepreneurs, another area in which women, who make up 40% of Georgia’s business owners, have struggled during the pandemic.

Elizabeth Feichter (right) poses for a portrait with husband Frank White (left) and son Dylan Feichter-White (middle) at their home in Atlanta on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. Feichter is the founder of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, but is currently working to develop new businesses because of the festival’s cancellation due to COVID-19. (Christina Matacotta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Elizabeth Feichter (right) poses for a portrait with husband Frank White (left) and son Dylan Feichter-White (middle) at their home in Atlanta on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. Feichter is the founder of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, but is currently working to develop new businesses because of the festival’s cancellation due to COVID-19. (Christina Matacotta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

This year would have been the last year that Elizabeth Feichter, founder of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, managed the event before handing off operations to a partner agency. But after deliberating for several months, Feichter and her team realized they would not be able to hold the large public event showcasing local restaurants and chefs.

“The festival doesn’t exist without the people at the heart of it and their industry has been decimated. I lost my business that I have been building for 10 years and I lost the people that helped me build that business,” said Feichter. She has been working on new ventures, including a bar and restaurant on the Westside and a partnership with Epicurean Hotel, which is scheduled to open in 2021.

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She considers herself fortunate.

Her husband, an attorney, is working, though at a reduced salary. They live in a beautiful home, she said, and together are able to juggle the competing demands of child care and work, but it hasn’t escaped her that she is a woman in her mid-40s who has already built two businesses and is now faced with building a third.

“I had a salary and now I don’t,” Feichter said. “I didn’t think this would be a moment in my life when I would have to start over.”

Stroud, the longtime hospitality employee, is also looking for ways to start over. She has continued her volunteer work feeding the homeless and hopes to grow the event planning business that she once was only able to cultivate in her spare time. She recently planned an outdoor wedding and a Friendsgiving event, she said.

Even as she rethinks her career in the present, Stroud has her eyes on the future and the next generation of women, including her daughter. “I encourage her to make her vote count and stay in school,” said Stroud. “Women are still going to be powerful ... the workforce will need women.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Women have suffered the majority of pandemic-related job losses. Since February 2020, women have lost more than 5 million net jobs and account for 53.6% of overall net job losses since the pandemic began.

  • 40% of unemployed women have been out of work six months or longer
  • 1 in 11 Black women and 1 in 12 Latinas remained unemployed in November 2020
  • 25% of women and 22% of men in metro Atlanta report being laid off, terminated or furloughed due to COVID-19
  • 35% of women in metro Atlanta work from home due to COVID-19 compared to 31% of men

Sources: National Women’s Law Center, Atlanta Regional Commission