Analysis: The Great Recession vs. the pandemic recession — women are getting the worst of it

Women have already faced more job losses due to the economic shutdown. And given their lower wages, they have fewer savings to tap. Photo is from before the pandemic, by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

We can already see parallels between the COVID-19 recession and the Great Recession that followed the housing crisis and financial crisis of 2008-09.  

The Great Recession caused a severe disruption in consumer spending, private investment, stress on government budgets and, most importantly, jobs.  

The pandemic recession looks as if it’s headed in the same direction. 

But the two events are having starkly different impacts on different workers: 

The Great Recession saw enormous job losses in the construction and manufacturing sectors. 

This time around it’s the service sector which has suffered the immediate brunt of the layoffs. 

Another way to put it: The Great Recession was especially difficult on men. This recession is shaping up to be harder on women. 

That gender imbalance will have a disparate impact on Minnesotans. 

First, let’s take a look at the unemployment rate between men and women, 2009 and in 2020.

From this national data we can clearly see that in the 2009 crisis, men suffered the greatest loss of employment in comparison to women because of the collapse of manufacturing and construction, and the fact that these have historically been male-dominated industries.

Flash forward to today, and we see a much different picture.

Nationally, Women made up 60% of the jobs lost in March 2020, and 55% of the jobs lost in April.

Additionally, women who were the sole or primary breadwinners of their household saw their unemployment rates skyrocket to nearly 16% in April 2020, as opposed to married women at 13%.

Sole provider women is an important category, as it implies that women — in addition to providing for themselves — also provide for dependent children. This demographic is particularly vulnerable to broad economic disruption.

Now, to turn to Minnesota specifically, we should look at which industry sectors have experienced the largest job loss during 2020: Retail trade, healthcare and social assistance, and accommodation and food service. The Minnesota data shows that there is a clear, disparate impact between men and women in these sectors.

The data show the types of workers affected by each economic downturn are fundamentally different, and the impact correspondingly so.

Due to historic inequalities, when women workers get laid off, they have a weaker safety net than their male counterparts, data show.

They were making less money to begin with:

This is particularly pronounced for women who are sole breadwinners. Women in the U.S. have much lower median wealth than men, according to the most recent study of U.S. median wealth in 2013.

What this means is that during the Covid recession, we have more women laid off with a much more tenuous safety net. Single mothers and primary caregivers are going to be particularly vulnerable during this crisis. As of 2018 in Minnesota, single parents comprised more than 30% of all households with children in Minnesota. Given that the majority of single parent households are women, this recession is proving particularly devastating to these Minnesota families.

School closures and distance learning are compounding the difficulties of Minnesota’s women workers, and single mothers in particular. Children are unable to attend school or after-school programs, which will make getting a job that much harder for single mothers and women who have lost their jobs and are being relied upon for child care while their spouses work.

Schools can only open when it is safe, but women and single mothers of Minnesota do not have the luxury of waiting — they are the primary victims of unemployment due to the pandemic.

State government needs to address the specific needs of women workers who have been laid off, and should address these other compounding factors to give Minnesota families a little breathing room.