What Is a “She-cession” and What Does It Mean for Our Economic Recovery?
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it.
The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.
• Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
• Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.
Should We Be Calling this Crisis a “She-cession?”
In another historic moment apropos of COVID-19, the unemployment rate for women has climbed to double digits: 16.2%. It’s only the second time on record (i.e. since 1948 when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began gender-disaggregating data) that we’ve seen this happen.
The first time female unemployment hit double digits was in 1982, and even then the unemployment rate was 5.8 percentage points lower than it is now.
That, plus how women accounted for 55% of all jobs lost in April, has led many people to call our current economic crisis a she-cession. This week, let’s test the validity of this term and what it means for our economic recovery.
Is “she-cession” an appropriate name for this economic crisis? Everyone I know is impacted, not only women.
We are hearing the term she-cession to describe the coronavirus-induced recession because, in a rare turn of events, women’s unemployment is higher than men’s unemployment.
It’s normally the other way around in times of economic downturn. During the Great Recession, the gender differential in job losses was so pronounced that analysts dubbed the crisis a man-cession. The man-cession, where 78% of jobs lost were held by men, resulted in the largest gender unemployment gap (as high as 2.5%) since World War II.
Women’s Unemployment Is Higher than Men’s
Now, back to our current situation with COVID-19. Considering how the unemployment rate for men rose to 13.5% in April while the unemployment rate for women shot up to 16.2%, it’s not a stretch to label this economic crisis the great she-cession. In aggregate, women’s employment has been hit hardest. And it’s worse for women of color. Hispanic women’s unemployment rate, for instance, soared to 20.2% in April.
Beyond the unemployment rate’s gender divergence, there’s another characteristic that makes this crisis, the great she-cession, economically unique.
Other Drivers of the “She-cession”
Unpaid labor—otherwise known as the backbone of the American economy—overwhelmingly falls on the shoulders of women. This was true pre-COVID-19 and it’s true now. So what happens when we factor in the 46 states that have closed schools until August or September? Or the nearly 50% of childcare centers that have completely shut their doors? Who’s carrying the burden of this unexpected demand for extra childcare and educational instruction?
In most cases and regardless of parents’ employment status, it’s women. Four out of five women report spending more time home-schooling their children and helping them with distance learning than men. How much more time, exactly?
A recent study found that women who work full time and have both a partner and children are spending at least 71 hours per week on unpaid labor as a result of COVID-19.
(Before the coronavirus, the lack of accessible and affordable child care cost the US $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue. I shudder to think of what the cost is now.)
And what happens when we factor in the gender wealth gap?
For every one dollar men own, women own a mere 32 cents. Women had fewer financial resources to live off of before the she-cession ever began, and now they are absorbing the bulk of job cuts.
The havoc is multidimensional, and the common thread is gender inequity.
In business jargon, we’d call this a horizontally-integrated crisis because gender inequity is woven into nearly every aspect of it. As such, gender inequity has given this pandemic a distinct flavor. Hence the term she-cession.
What a She-cession Means for Recovery Efforts
While I’m solemnly relieved to see reports that acknowledge the she-cession and the gendered impact of the crisis, I’m worried that our policy solutions will not.
Because women are bearing the brunt of the economic turmoil, our response efforts need to also account for the gender differentials.
Yes, it’s a matter of fairness. Fundamentally though, it’s a matter of efficacy. The performance of public policy depends on how accurately we direct and allocate resources.
Most of us operate under the assumption that government policy is gender-neutral. It’s not. That’s why I support gender budgeting. It’s an intuitive method to craft and evaluate public policy. Gender budgeting benefits the economy because it ensures that we distribute resources efficiently and sustainably.
I encourage you to access my latest report (How to Vote for Gender Equity) to understand the economics behind gender budgeting. Plus, in the report, you can see gender budgeting put into practice across 15 elections issues. Here’s the link to download the report.
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