Sarah Small and Debra Lancaster
Women’s work lives have been disrupted in profound ways during COVID-19: in their roles as frontline workers confronting the virus, as caregivers taking on even more unpaid care work at home due to childcare disruptions, and as unemployed workers in sectors hit hardest by business closures during the height of the pandemic. Many women continue to experience economic hardship even as the economic turbulence of the pandemic wanes.
A recent report from the Center for Women in Work in partnership with the New Jersey Policy Lab describes how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted New Jersey women.
The report examines a range of current economic issues within New Jersey, including women’s unemployment and labor force participation, demographics of frontline workers, and gender wage gaps. It also examines women’s experiences with childcare disruptions and stalled educational pursuits during the pandemic. The report concludes with an examination of several policy interventions, including the economic impact payments and Child Tax Credit payments.
The main highlights of the report are as follows:
Women faced high unemployment: Women in New Jersey have faced higher unemployment rates than men throughout the pandemic. Women’s unemployment peaked in April 2020, at 18.4%. During the same month, men’s unemployment was 14.6%. In 2020 overall, Black women in New Jersey faced an unemployment rate of nearly 15%. Hispanic women in New Jersey also had an especially high unemployment rate in 2020 at around 14%, while White women’s unemployment was 10%.
Labor force participation rates fell: The labor force participation rate for working-age women in New Jersey was close to 73.6% in 2019 but fell slightly to 72.9% in 2020. Working-age Black mothers withdrew from the labor force at higher than average rates: in 2019, their labor force participation rate was near 83.6%, but fell to 82.3% in 2020. White and Asian mothers were better able to stay in the labor force.
Black women took on multiple jobs: 5.2% of New Jersey women had multiple jobs in 2021, a rate higher than in previous years, and higher than men’s (4.1% in 2021). Black women were more likely to indicate they had multiple jobs, especially during 2020 when 6.1% indicated so. In fact, among women, they were the only racial or ethnic group to take on more jobs in 2020 on average.
The overall gender wage gap remained constant: New Jersey women earned 82% of what men earned in 2020. This ratio has remained close to 82% since 2018, meaning that overall gender wage gaps did not worsen in 2020 in New Jersey. However, when comparing gender pay gaps within racial and ethnic groups, gender pay inequities worsened within Hispanic and Asian groups during the pandemic, but became more equal within White and Black groups.
Women made up the majority of frontline workers: In 2020 over 63% of the state’s frontline essential workers were women. Frontline essential industries employed a higher share of Black women than other industries: 21% of women employed in frontline industries were Black compared to just 11% of women employed in non-essential industries. Frontline workers overall were less likely to be covered by health insurance and earned less on average than those working in non-essential industries, meaning their safety nets were especially weak if they were to contract COVID.
Low-income families lost jobs and money due to childcare disruptions: Among New Jersey parents that earned less than $50,000 in annual household income, 20.5% indicated they had to cut work hours due to a childcare disruption, and 23% indicated that someone left or lost their job as a result of the childcare crisis. By comparison, among households earning $100,000 or more, only 7.5% indicated a household member left or lost their job due to childcare disruptions.
Economic Impact Payments helped New Jersey families put food on the table: When asked how Economic Impact Payments were spent, food was the most common response in both 2020 and 2021, followed by utilities. In 2020, New Jersey households also spent their stimulus payments on household supplies and personal care products or their mortgage or rent. In 2021, households were more likely to have used the payments to pay down debts or to save or invest the payments.
Child Tax Credits payments were also spent on essentials: When asked how Child Tax Credit payments were spent, food was the most common response (34.1%), followed by clothing (16.8%), and savings or investments (15.1%). The least common responses were charitable donations (0.9%), tutoring services (1.4%), and recreation (2.6%).
The Child Tax Credit sometimes did not get into the hands of families who needed it most: In New Jersey, low-income households with children were among the least likely to have reported that they received the credit. For instance, among respondents with household incomes less than $25,000 and children in the household, just 40.7% received payments.
Other policy interventions are still needed: Improved housing protections, support for domestic violence survivors, healthcare access, childcare infrastructure, and paid family leave could all help improve the current condition of working women and their households in New Jersey.
Ultimately, it is our hope that this report helps guide discussions on where and how we might advance gender and racial equity in in the state, especially as stakeholders seek pathways to develop a more inclusive economy in the wake of COVID-19.
The Center for Women and Work will continue to monitor the status of women in the state, with a special focus on mothers, women with disabilities, low-income women, Black women, and Hispanic women, who have faced some of the biggest economic hurtles during the pandemic. Women’s employment, care provision, health, and wellbeing are critical to the success of the state’s economy. The Center for Women and Work is committed to analyzing these data and engaging with key stakeholders across the state to ensure that women’s narratives are heard and used to influence policy.