MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In the months before the coronavirus pandemic, there were more women than men on employer payrolls. That's no longer true. In the April jobs report, we learned that the brunt of job losses fell on women. That could have effects on women that last well beyond the crisis. To talk more about this, we've called NPR politics and economics reporter Danielle Kurtzleben.
Danielle, thanks so much for joining us.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Yes, of course.
MARTIN: So women lost more jobs than men. How bad was it?
KURTZLEBEN: It was bad. They accounted for more than half - 55% - of the job losses last month. So women now have an unemployment rate of 16.2%, which is almost three points higher than men's unemployment rate. Now, that's highly unusual for a moderate economic downturn - for women to have a jobless rate higher than men and especially one that's that much higher.
MARTIN: So why is that unusual? Talk a bit more about what's going on right now that's contributed to that.
KURTZLEBEN: Past recessions have often hit industries like construction and manufacturing, and those are industries that have a lot of men that work in them. Think about the Great Recession as an example of this. But now you have restaurants, hotels, retail stores, doctor's offices - those places are sending people home. And those industries are more likely to have lots of women working in them.
MARTIN: And, of course, this recession is unusual, unique for a lot of reasons. I mean, the fact is that, you know, whole cities have basically been shut down, right?
KURTZLEBEN: Yes, absolutely. And that gets at another way that this recession is really unusual. It's that the kids have been sent home. I talked about this with Matthias Doepke. He's an economics professor at Northwestern University, and he has been studying COVID-19's economic effects by gender. And he told me that child care might be having the biggest effect on women's jobs numbers right now. Here he is.
MATTHIAS DOEPKE: Now that you have all these schools closed, so you have a much higher requirement for childcare at home. Because women are doing the majority of that already, they are more effective.
KURTZLEBEN: And part of that is that in families with a dad and a mom, mom often does more child care than the dad. But there's also this - women are much more likely to be solo parents than men. He explained that as well.
DOEPKE: We have 16 million single moms in the United States, and many of them have no alternative child care, especially now, now that grandparents are not supposed to come over anymore. And so for many of them, it's simply not going to be possible to work.
KURTZLEBEN: And by the way, in addition, there are some big class effects here. You have a lot of women who do work. It's essential work. It's often blue-collar work. And it's work that cannot be done at home. And so that constrains them. They have to pick between work and taking care of their kids.
MARTIN: So what are the experts saying about how this might affect women's job prospects in the future?
KURTZLEBEN: In the past, people who got laid off in recessions - when they eventually did find work, they tended to have lower wages than they did before, and it tended to be unsteadier work. So, since more women are losing jobs right now, this could mean a tougher time for women in the future in particular.
But then there is one other thing that Doepke pointed out to me. This crisis has made many employers a lot more flexible with work arrangements and just more aware of their employees' parenting needs. So it's possible that at least some employers might get more flexible and be more willing to work with parents on things like scheduling. So that would benefit all parents but probably particularly women.
MARTIN: Daniel Kurtzleben. Thank you.
KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.
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