Woman working from home with baby in high chair

Carrying Us Forward: Pandemic Weighs Heavily on Women    

More than three million women have dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic – a startling statistic that outpaces the loss of work for men and illustrates one way women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID pandemic.  

Before the pandemic hit, women had made record-level gains in participation in the work force – largely in jobs in retail, hospitality, education and healthcare 

But as the pandemic hit in 2020working women were deeply affected. Not only were many furloughed or laid off due to the nature of their work – for those that kept their jobs, the demands of front-line, essential jobs conflicted with family needs as children had to stay home and traditional support systems for older parents falteredThe pandemic has particularly hit communities of color in a disproportionate way: Black and Hispanic women have left the workforce in larger numbers than white women.   

In order for many families to remain financially afloat, it was up to women to bear the brunt of the economic burden, in some cases by balancing work and caregiving – or by exiting the workforce to manage the household.  

For working mothers, navigating quarantines and remote learning for children added to their burden. In September 2020 as schools across the country resumed session – many through virtual, remote means – 80% of the 1.1 million people who exited the workforce were women.  

Additionally, many women serve as the primary caregivers for their aging parents in their own homes.  

This allocation of responsibility is partially tied to outdated, gendered roles of the primary caregiver. In many households, this is still viewed as a woman’s job 

The stress and anxiety shouldered by parents as they navigated the pandemic also hit women harder: about 69% of mothers and 51% of fathers have experienced adverse health effects from worry and stress as a result of the pandemic, according to a recent poll – including difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, overeating, stomachaches and headaches.  

Studies have shown that women in the workforce add to the nation’s economy in significant ways and benefit the quality of life middle class workers are able to provide for their families. Health and wealth are interconnected; which is why it’s critically important to ensure working women aren’t permanently disadvantaged by the impacts of the pandemic.  

Hear more about this topic and how it’s affecting women’s mental health from Amy McKenzie, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer for Provider Engagement at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, in this episode of the A Healthier Michigan podcast.  

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