Even before the pandemic dealt a serious economic blow to women in the City’s workforce— particularly to low-income women of color, who bore the brunt of the pandemic—the playing field for women was uneven. Trapped in jobs with stagnant wages, often without employer-provided benefits and inflexible work schedules, these women were struggling to balance caregiving responsibilities and maintaining their economic security. Many were involuntarily pushed out of the labor market and most lived paycheck-to-paycheck in an increasingly expensive city. The pandemic, and its disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable workers in the economy, has only exacerbated the economic insecurity and financial precarity low-income women face.
Understanding the unique needs and challenges faced by low-income women in the workforce, and supporting them and their families, is essential to ensuring an equitable recovery and a post-pandemic future in which they can thrive at work and care for themselves and their loved ones.
A new report by A Better Balance and the Community Service Society (CSS) entitled, “Women in the Workforce: Advancing a Just Recovery in New York City,” offers new survey data showing how low-income women in the New York City workforce are disproportionately bearing the brunt of pandemic-related economic harm. The report, which draws on recent findings from CSS’s Unheard Third survey—the longest-running poll of low-income people in the United States—recommends several targeted solutions that can be implemented today to address the needs of low-income working women, from investing in educating workers about existing workplace rights to expanding access to paid leave, increasing access to fair and flexible scheduling, and to ensuring equitable access to quality, affordable childcare.
“As New York plans for a post-pandemic future, the needs of low-income working women must be a top priority,” said David R. Jones, CSS President and CEO. “This report, a collaborative effort with the nationally-recognized nonprofit A Better Balance, lays out in stark terms the struggles experienced by low-income working women during the pandemic and the kinds of holistic measures that can support them in weathering the ongoing pandemic.”
“Ensuring that women in low-wage jobs can care for themselves and their loved ones is a critical, non-negotiable component of ushering a just recovery in New York City,” said A Better Balance Co-Founders and Co-Presidents Sherry Leiwant and Dina Bakst. “This firsthand look at the harsh inequities that have been exposed and worsened by the pandemic, presented in collaboration with the Community Service Society, one of New York’s leading nonprofit organizations, represents an urgent call to action for lawmakers and City leaders.”
“One of the striking findings in this report is that around a quarter of low-income women had to drop out of labor force due to caregiving needs,” said Debipriya Chatterjee, PhD, Senior Economist at CSS, and report co-author. “The immediate as well as the long term cost of shutting so many productive workers out of the economy is expected to be immense and lasting for generations—underscoring the need for improving access to quality and affordable childcare solutions.”
“It is especially alarming to have found that over half of low-income women in New York City’s workforce are not aware of their right to paid sick time as they care for themselves and their family members,” said A Better Balance Staff Attorney and report co-author Meghan Racklin. “NYC became a nationwide leader when it passed the groundbreaking Earned Sick and Safe Time Act in 2014—but our lawmakers must double down on robust enforcement and public education around this fundamental right.”
“Women of color working in low wage jobs in New York City disproportionately shoulder the burden of work and caregiving, and they lack the support need to manage this demand — a reality that has only become clearer during the pandemic,” said Emerita Torres, CSS Vice President for Policy, Research and Advocacy. “Our latest report sheds light on the need for bold, comprehensive action so working women can overcome the economic setbacks they suffered and enjoy a full and equitable recovery.”
Below is a summary of key findings and report recommendations.
- 40 percent of low-income women suffered employment losses since the onset of the pandemic with nearly 25 percent having to drop out of the labor force entirely;
- Job loss rates were higher for women of color – around 38 percent of Black women and 36 percent of Latina/x women reported losing employment, compared to 30 among white women;
- 25 percent of low-income women in the paid workforce reported that they needed to stop working for health and/or caregiving reasons;
- Among parents who needed to stop working, 59 percent of mothers cited childcare concerns as the main reason compared to 36 percent of fathers;
- 55 percent of low income women in the workforce had not heard about their right to paid sick time;
- 42 percent of low-income women in the workforce have less than $500 in emergency savings and 43 percent of low-income women in New York City’s paid labor force are worried all or most of the time about having enough income to pay the bills.
- Expand outreach, education and enforcement of City and State laws that safeguard workers’ rights and modernize notice to employees;
- Ensure workers have the fair and flexible schedules they need, alongside standard workplace protections and employer-provided benefits;
- Modernize the State’s temporary disability insurance and paid family leave program;
- Expand access to high-quality, affordable childcare;
- Expand app-based gig workers’ rights
- Curb the use of overly rigid, punitive attendance policies;
- Protect caregivers from discrimination in the workplace;
- Ensure New York City and New York State lead by example as model employers
The release of the “Women in the Workforce” report coincided with a June 8 virtual policy forum featuring city and state lawmakers, government agency leaders, advocates and researchers. Among the elected officials participating in the event were: State Senator Jessica Ramos; Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; City Comptroller Brad Lander; Council Members Amanda Farias and Gale Brewer; Vilda Vera Mayuga, Commissioner, NYC Dept. of Consumer and Workforce Protection; and Clarissa Rodriguez, Chair, NYS Workers Compensation Board.