On the eve of the 101st anniversary this week of Congress passing the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, advocates for working women joined to discuss the disproportional negative effects of the coronavirus on those who hold the majority of jobs affected by furloughs, layoffs and closings.
“Women are experiencing the most economic insecurity in the country,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd. She explained that women held 60% of the jobs lost in March, the lion’s share of the more than 40 million women currently out of work.
Fran Pastore of the Women’s Business Development Council shared that a large number of women with businesses in Connecticut who are grappling to stay afloat have reached out to her organization to find ways to access capital and stay open.
“In the last ten weeks we have had 3,000 reach out,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of those people have been women business owners in the state looking for answers to questions about money, child care, access to resources and making sure they have a business in the new normal.”
“The businesses that were the earliest and hardest hit by the pandemic are predominantly female businesses,” added Quinnipiac University Political Science Professor Jennifer Sacco, pointing out that women are more likely than men to drop out of work to care for children and other family members.
The child care sector, operated primarily by women, has been hard hit by this economic storm. Those still in operation face higher expenses to meet safety and sanitation rules juxtaposed against smaller class sizes. Enrollment is down, because some families can no longer afford tuition and others fear health risks.
DeLauro has introduced legislation, the Child Care is Essential Act, to create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund within the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program.
“We bailed out the airlines, why in the hell not bail out the childcare industry?” DeLauro asked.
Lieutenant Gov. Susan Bysiewicz agreed. “Childcare is a critical part of the economic infrastructure. If we don’t have it, we won’t have a full recovery,” she said.
State Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, who co-chairs the legislature’s Labor Committee, expressed concern about the child care industry and its effect on women being able to work. She also voiced specific concern about women of color, and what life will look like in the workplace after the coronavirus subsides.
“Women are getting left behind. This concerns me. We have made 50 years of progress and I don’t want to see that slide back. I am concerned that when jobs open up, employers will go back to their old ways. I don’t want to see that happen post-COVID,” said Porter. “When they are introduced back into the workforce I want to ensure it is done so on a level playing field.”
“In addition to the loss of jobs there is also a loss of opportunity for promotions, retirement and Social Security that will have a long-term effect,” said Sacco, who posed that the three issues women confront most often now are the devaluation of their work, occupational segregation and family-work conflict.
But the discussion was not without bright spots. As a result of the pandemic, Sacco noted that society as a whole has found a new appreciation for the jobs that are actually essential, such as grocery store clerks, teachers and child care workers, all of which are primarily staffed by women.
Patricia Russo, who heads The Campaign School at Yale, said it’s not surprising Connecticut is a leader in many areas where gender equality is measured. However, there is room for more. “We need more women running [for office] and winning. When women lead, we lead together and we will take the lead on pay equity because we have been the victims. We need to amplify the message.”
Bysiewicz explained that mayors and first selectmen throughout the state are assembling local recovery committees, and she encouraged women to reach out to become part of those committees so that every part of each community is represented equally.
More information about business assistance in Connecticut is available at www.ctwbdc.org.