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Women, Job Loss and the Potential Fallout

In this week's episode, we discuss women's uphill battle for economic security

A woman sits on the steps with her head in her hands next to a box

Getty Images/AARP

Kathy Philpott:

I used to say, long before the pandemic, that I would only retire if I dropped dead.

Carol Anne Cook:

I went what I call COVID crazy and told the supervisor, by email, "Color me gone."

Wilma Consul:

Millions lost their jobs during the pandemic. Half of those became unemployed are women. Today, we’ll hear two stories about coping with job loss, and to give us the big picture, we talk to Nancy LeaMond, AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer.

Nancy LeaMond:

If we look at women in particular, they're on very shaky ground. The gender wage gap starts early and compounds over time. And women tend to be overrepresented in low wage jobs. Women are more likely to lean out for going promotions and other opportunities or taking time out of the workforce to care for children and aging parents, spouses, or other loved ones. So to put it bluntly, the math just doesn't add up for most women.

Wilma Consul:

That’s coming up next.

Wilma Consul:

Hi, I’m Wilma Consul with an AARP Take on Today.

Wilma Consul:

Before the pandemic, 70-year-old Kathy Philpott worked as a skincare sales associate in Vancouver, Washington. She was an optimistic person, with a cheerful disposition and fiery red hair, something you can expect from someone working at Ulta. But come March 2020, when the pandemic hit, Kathy says she couldn't look at the bright side.

Kathy Philpott: 

I kind of had been keeping track of what was going on with the pandemic. Just trying to stay informed and we had changed some protocols at work to protect ourselves and our customers. It was horrible at the beginning just because I felt that maybe the information would change. It was just alarming. 

Wilma Consul:

The bad news continued. Despite taking safety precautions, Kathy and her coworkers could sense their jobs were in danger.

Kathy Philpott: 

We were being proactive, but I knew that this was going to take a pretty dramatic turn when the World Health Organization said it was a pandemic. I talked to my boss, told her my concerns and she told me that everyone was going on temporary furlough.

Wilma Consul:

When Kathy's furlough ended in January 2021, she declined the offer to return to work. She says she didn't feel comfortable running the risk of catching the virus . She remains grateful to her employer. It's a different story for Carol Ann Cook, a 76 year old woman living in Midland TX . She quit her job because, the conditions were unmanageable. Carol had been a land coordinator for an oil and gas company.

Carol Ann Cook:

… Which basically meant that I worked with land documents, leases, and analyzing in preparation for drilling of oil wells.

Wilma Consul:

Much of Carol's job involved managing records, both kept and computers and in real life containers. She says, work from home conditions made her job difficult.

Carol Anne Cook:

… was a very busy, stressful work environment. But as long as I was able to access those records, I felt I was doing an adequate job.

Wilma Consul:

And this might sound familiar to most these days, away from the office, Carol's workload increased, and it kept piling up.

Carol Anne Cook:

I was actually working more hours in a day at home than when I was in the office. The day before I quit, I'd been up all night, up during the night, creating a hundred plus proposal letters to participate drilling 12 wells by the end of the month.

Wilma Consul:

By September, Carol says told her boss about being overworked, and overwhelmed. But, no response. That was the last straw for her.

Carol Anne Cook:

And I went what I call COVID crazy and told the supervisor, by email, "Color me gone." No one was as surprised as myself when I quit. I can only think if not for COVID, the pressure I felt would not have been so amplified and I would not have had a meltdown and would have been able to complete my required tasks. This was unlike anything I'd ever done in previous employments spanning 40 plus years.

Wilma Consul:

Carol Ann Cook and Kathy Philipot have remained unemployed since last year. But neither one wants to stop working. Besides the financial reasons they missed the stimulations their jobs provided. But Carol is not confident she'll make as much money as she made before; she says her age is working against her. She has had trouble finding work despite applying for dozens of positions.

Carol Anne Cook:

but nothing else has really come, reared its head. So maybe now that we're transitioning back into a normal environment, none COVID, but something... I feel like something will come up even if I have to do volunteer work someplace.

Wilma Consul:

Kathy, the red-haired sales associate from Ulta makeup shop used her time off to focus on her own well-being. She strengthened her family connections, if only by phone and she stopped dying her hair red and went natural - all grey.

Kathy Philpott:

I wanted to feel more genuine. And whatever it is, whatever I've been going through, darn it. I'm a warrior and I don't need to hide in any way, shape, or form as far as my personality. And I'm an older woman and it's okay.

Wilma Consul:

Kathy also realized the importance of staying active and independent, being free to do what she wants to do.

Kathy Philpott:

I used to say, long before the pandemic, that I would only retire if I dropped dead. And retirement right now is not something I can really do. I think I've taught myself some things during this pandemic and I think I could make it work working part time and I think that might be a smarter way to be.

Wilma Consul:

The conditions of the pandemic had forced so many like Kathy Philpot and Carol Ann Cook out of their jobs. The final monthly jobs report of 2020 from the US Bureau of Labor statistics show 140,000 jobs were lost in December. This was considered “good news”, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April last year. However, this data revealed a shocking gap: women accounted for all the job losses. AARP's Public Policy Institute reviews these numbers. You've also heard a few times on this program, how women have struggled to save for retirement and secure their financial future. A year into the pandemic, it's clear the economic fallout and job loss are impacting women at higher rates. To talk more about this, we've invited back Nancy LeaMond, AARP's chief Advocate and Engagement Officer.

How are you doing Nancy?

Wilma Consul:

So it seems like women have a tougher time each year when it comes to having financial security. Why is that?

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, first, it's important to keep in mind that there's a looming retirement crisis generally in this country. At a time when income needs to stretch for 20 or 30 years past traditional retirement age, there are constellation of factors tipping the scales towards financial insecurity. Fewer Americans have defined benefit pensions through their employers. Millions don't have access to any employer-based retirement savings plan. And even a lot of folks who do have 401ks and IRAs aren't able to save what they're going to need for retirement. Close to half of all Americans age 51 to 64 both men and women in this age group have no savings at all. And more Americans are carrying debt into their 50s, 60s and 70s. And social security solvency while strong today needs to be strengthened for the future.

Nancy LeaMond:

So it's not an understatement to say that this is really uncharted territory. And that's the overall context. As you mentioned earlier, if we look at women in particular, they're on very shaky ground. On average women earn less than men. The gender wage gap starts early and compounds over time. And women tend to be overrepresented in low wage jobs. Women are more likely to lean out for going promotions and other opportunities or taking time out of the workforce to care for children and aging parents, spouses, or other loved ones. And this translates into lower lifetime wages, which means less ability to save and lower social security benefits. And meanwhile, as we all know, women tend to live longer than men and have higher healthcare costs in retirement. So to put it bluntly, the math just doesn't add up for most women.

Wilma Consul:

Now, you followed the statistics, what do the numbers tell us?

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, there's an awful lot of data to tell us the story of women's uphill battle for economic security. And here's just a few. First, the gender wage gap. On average women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. And women of color, they have an even greater pay disparity, 62 cents and 52 cents for African-American, Black, and Hispanic, Latino women respectively. Second, caregiving. 60% of family caregivers are women. And on average caregivers spent 24 hours a week on care responsibilities. It's like another part-time job, but one that doesn't pay at all.

Wilma Consul:

Yeah.

Nancy LeaMond:

And then third, retirement savings and income. The medium retirement savings for near retirees, people of between 51 and 64 is $43,000 for single women and $80,000 for single men, $100,000 for married women, and $141,000 for married men. You see this disparity between men and women, but the biggest part of the picture is that no one has saved really enough for retirement at this point. And the median household retirement income for those who are over 65 is only around $47,000 for women. And the average social security benefits are little more than $15,000 for women and just over $19,000 for men. When you look at these numbers, it just tells you a story of a extreme financial insecurity for an awful lot of Americans, especially women.

Wilma Consul:

How has the pandemic effected the situation?

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, unlike the great recession which disproportionately affected men, women have really borne the brunt of the COVID-related job losses. Women are overrepresented in the workforce and industry sectors like hospitality and retail that were very hard-hit last year. And a lot of women had to leave jobs to focus on helping their kids with virtual school.

Wilma Consul:

Exactly.

Nancy LeaMond:

Or because they simply lost childcare options completely.

Wilma Consul:

Now, clearly there is a problem. How do we solve this? How can women be more financially secure in the years ahead, especially women of color?

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, as you point out, this as a big, big challenge. It's multifaceted and a multigenerational problem. And so it's going to require multifaceted and multigenerational solutions. Among the items that we've talked about are, first, dealing with gender pay equity. Second, providing affordable child and elder care. Third, strengthening paid leave and other workplace policies to make it easier for family caregivers to balance work and their responsibilities at home. Fourth, creating tax credits to help defray out-of-pocket costs for caregiving expenses, expanding access to workplace retirement savings and plans. And then finally, protecting and strengthening social security for current and future generations. Improving the economic wellbeing of women of all ages will go a long way towards shoring up millions of American families and our country's overall economic health.

Wilma Consul:

And can I just ask how is AARP helping with all these?

Nancy LeaMond:

AARP is working on each of the items I just mentioned. And especially now as the Congress is debating increased investments and home care and childcare and elder care caregiving tax credits, we're front and center advocating on behalf of American families.

Wilma Consul:

Nancy LeaMond is AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer. Thank you for your time, Nancy.

Nancy LeaMond:

Thank you, Wilma.

Wilma Consul:

Thanks to our news team.  

Producers, Colby Nelson, and Danny Alarcon.  

Production Assistant Fernando Snellings.  

Engineer, Julio Gonzalez.  

Executive producer, Jason Young.  

And of course, my cohosts, Bob Edwards and Mike Ellison. 

If you liked this episode, share it with a friend and become a subscriber on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well. 

For an AARP Take on Today, I’m Wilma Consul, Thanks for listening. 

As a result of the pandemic, millions of women are unemployed. But, according to AARP's Nancy LeaMond, the problem is multifaceted and multigenerational. We'll also hear from two women, who share their stories and experiences of unemployment amidst the pandemic. This week, we discuss women's uphill battle for economic security. 

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