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Voices of a Nation: Why so many women are leaving the workforce

Pandemic-induced recession affecting US women more than men

DETROIT – The pandemic-induced recession has been referred to as a “she-cession” because it appears to be affecting women more than men.

One point one million people dropped out of the workforce in August and September. According to a National Women’s Law Center analysis, 865,000 of them were women. Of them, 324, 000 were Latina and 58,000 were black women. It goes on to say about one in every nine Black women and Latinas remain unemployed.

In metro Detroit, women-owned businesses are also suffering.

Yvette Jenkins, founder of Love Travels Imports, was just seeing her business bounce back in early 2020. It had been hit hard during a big road construction project on Livernois Avenue in 2019.

“Then the pandemic hit. everything shut down,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins typically sells goods from artisans around the world including South Africa, Peru and Haiti. During the initial Stay Home Stay Safe order, Jenkins focused on online sales, offering the products she could get and also what was in demand; that meant masks and hand sanitizer. She said the only revenue she generated through the end of March and April came from lavender hand sanitizer and face masks.

“Partly why this recession is affecting women disproportionately is because we start businesses that are on the ground businesses that got hurt the most, women disproportionately start food businesses, health and beauty businesses, businesses that relate to fitness, these are the things that matter to us, children care businesses and all of those got shuttered” said Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of Michigan Woman Forward.

“This downtown (Detroit) was vibrant and downtowns all over the state were becoming vibrant with these women-owned, these small-startup businesses that were really getting traction. And so, to kind of go back to square one and start all over again, has been pretty devastating for almost all of them. Only about 10 percent of them did not shutter during this pandemic,” Cassin said.

Michigan Woman Forward focuses on the financial and personal wellbeing of women. The foundation created a $1.5 million Resilience Fund during the pandemic. Cassin said they were able to help about 200 women-owned businesses get back up in running. Michigan Woman Forward continues to work on resources to help more of these businesses.

Jenkin’s business, Love Travels Imports, benefited from the fund.

“The uncertainty, you know, and the level of anxiety that I know I was experiencing and I know many people were as well, so I’m extremely grateful to them,” Jenkins said. “During this pandemic we have been hit with really a double whammy, not only in terms of our business and our work, but also our own personal wellbeing and health and trying to maintain the health and wellbeing of our family.”

According a new report from Women in the Workplace, the impact of COVID-19 has one in four women thinking of downshifting their careers or leaving their jobs.

The report also says 76 percent of mothers with children under the age of 10 say children is one of their top challenges compared to 54 percent of fathers.

Cassin says childcare is one of the reason some female small business owners have yet to reopen.

“They don’t have the ability to do that while they’re homeschooling their children. They don’t have the traffic downtown, you know, is it, is it worth starting this business up right now,” Cassin said.

Cassin revealed among the pool of entrepreneurs Michigan Women Forward works with, as many as 40 percent might not start back up again.

Sheapree Lee is a massage therapist and worked at a spa at the MGM Grand in Detroit until COVID-19 forced it to close. It has yet to reopen.

However Lee has chosen not to get a new job for now so she can stay home with her two children who are learning remotely.

“Nothing is more important to me than their health in their education. So it is hard financially, things have to be done a little bit different when it comes to finances,” Lee said. “It’s the ultimate sacrifice that I chose to do.”

Lee feels fortunate she has the option to stay home to be with her kids, she has friends who do not have the same option.

“It’s one of the hardest decisions that I feel that everybody had to make. and it’s just really unfortunate. you know, for everybody,” Lee said.

The Women in the Workforce report says Latina and Black mothers have a tougher burden, often more likely to be the sole breadwinner in their families or have a partner working out of the home.

According to the study, Latina moms are one point six times more likely than white mothers to be responsible for all child care and housework and Black mothers are twice as likely to be handling all of this for their families.

The report also lists several factors affecting a woman’s decision to cut back their work hours or leave all together. They include lack of flexibility at work, feeling that they need to be available at all hours of the day and night, housework and caregiving burdens because of the virus, and worry their performance is being judged negatively because of current caregiving responsibilities.

“The gap was narrowing for women and men in terms of wages. The gap was narrowing in the amount of money that we were able to deploy to women, but now we’re kind of back to back to the starting line, but that’s alright, you know, we’re going to, we’re going to just run faster and harder and do as much as we can to get back to where we were,” Cassin said.

Jenkins said November and December are usually her busiest times, but this year will be different. She is working on ways to increase business including participating at events at Eastern Market and creating a gift guide for customers. She is also working with other minority-owned businesses and encourages all of us to be intentional with our choices.

“I think working together, you know, I really think we could get through this,” Jenkins said.

Both Jenkins and Michigan Woman Forward said one way everyone can help support these businesses is to buy from them. Think about supporting small businesses for gifts, or with any purchase, by asking yourself where locally could you go for that purchase.


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