Paul Sancya / AP
The coronavirus has dealt a severe blow to American workers. So far, women have been paying a large part of the price.
The Ministry of Labor reports that more than 700,000 jobs were lost in the first wave of pandemic layoffs last month. Almost 60% of these jobs were held by women.
Perla Pimentel was one of the first economic victims. She worked as an event coordinator in Orlando, helping organize group meetings in the Mecca of tourism.
Six weeks ago, groups planning meetings in Florida began canceling as concerns over the coronavirus rose. In mid-March, Pimentel was unemployed.
Since then, millions of people across the country have been laid off, Americans ordered to take refuge and wait for the pandemic. Central Florida, heavily dependent on tourism, was particularly affected.
“It looks like everyone you know is unemployed or at some degree of separation,” said Pimentel.
Two weeks after his layoff, Pimentel’s father lost his job as a transportation contractor for Disney World. The warehouse where her mom works has also started laying off workers. At the moment, only his brother has a reliable salary.
Courtesy of Perla Pimentel
“My brother actually works as a pizza delivery boy,” said Pimentel. “He’s doing pretty well, as you can imagine. Lots of people order. “
When Americans started staying at home in droves last month, restaurants, bars, and hotels were among the first to feel the pressure. Because women make up the bulk of the workforce in these industries, the pink shifts so far have been particularly rosy.
Just three months ago, women had overtaken men to fill the majority of jobs on the payrolls of American companies. With job losses in March disproportionately affecting women, they are now back in the minority, but barely.
Ericka Dobrowski lost his job as a receptionist at a large Chicago hotel when reservations suddenly dried up.
The hotel where she worked has 1,200 rooms. “The last time I checked, we had three rooms occupied. So it’s crazy, “said Dobrowski.
Her sister, who worked for another hotel, is also unemployed now. Dobrowski was able to apply for unemployment early, before the much larger wave of layoffs that followed.
“I’ve been relying on it for two weeks now,” she said. “It was enough to get by, but it wasn’t great, of course. Most importantly, Illinois’s unemployment benefits office is absolutely overwhelmed right now. “
The fact that so many women are at the head of the unemployment line contrasts with the last recession. In 2008 and 2009, male-dominated industries like construction and finance were the first to experience the slowdown. This time, many high-contact workplaces like beauty salons, shoe stores, and dentists’ offices – where women outnumber men – quickly shut down.
Men can catch up, however, as layoffs continue to spread.
Robby Bissell lost jobs at two different restaurants where he worked in Lexington, Ky.
“I was working two jobs because I was saving up to move to Los Angeles,” said the aspiring actor. “It’s sort of everything has been put on hold right now. Which really stinks. “
University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson estimates that about 15 million Americans are currently in a similar situation, having lost their jobs because of the virus, with no clear indication of the length of stay-at-home orders .
“It is not like normal hours when people are unemployed and it means they are pounding the sidewalk trying to find work,” said Stevenson. “People cannot go to work and we are trying to find out who will be easily recalled and who will be able to do so financially until they are recalled. “
For both women and men, said Stevenson, what the future will look like after the pandemic will depend very much on whether or not they can find a job.