The economic and personal fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately and significantly affected women. More women have been forced to cut back on work hours or leave their jobs entirely. They've experienced more pandemic-related stress, taken the brunt of their families' mental load and even struggled with more postpartum depression in the last year than usual.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, an estimated 5.4 million women have lost their jobs, nearly a million more than men, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now, the number of women in the workforce is at a 33-year low. Black and Latina women have been especially hit hard, with unemployment within the demographic up to 50% higher than the national average.
Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, is out to change the current state for working women and mothers across the country. Saujani proposed a "Marshall Plan for Moms," a reference to the post-World War II program the U.S. launched to pull European agriculture and industry out of ruin between 1947-1951.
The "Marshall Plan for Moms" seeks to "revitalize and restore mothers in the workforce" and pay moms to do the work they’re already doing at home or support them if they wish to return to full-time jobs. A resolution for it has since been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, asking Congress and the White House to recognize and support working mothers by implementing multiple policies such as "establishing a robust paid leave plan, rebuilding and stabilizing the child care industry ... raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour or higher for all minimum wage workers, and providing access to mental health support for mothers."
“This is about focus and not exclusion, Saujani told 3rd hour of TODAY. "If you ask moms what they need right now, they need money. They need money to pay for child care. They need money to pay for food. They need money to actually make choices. We're not choosing to leave the workforce. We're being pushed out.”
The proposal has captured the attention of many working moms, including celebrities like Amy Schumer and Eva Longoria, who signed an open letter to President Joe Biden in January urging him to adopt the plan within his first 100 days in office.
The plan could be a game-changer for women like Angela Fisher, Kathleen Viramontes and Jody Frisch, who have all been hit hard in the last 12 months. Fisher was let go from her job as a college cafeteria employee when the school transitioned to an all-virtual format last spring.
Fisher hasn't been able to find another job yet and has been living out of her car. Despite receiving unemployment benefits, she hasn't been able to cover her bills or keep up with the monthly payments for her mother's care at a nursing home.
"It's a very lonely feeling, because it's just you, you know? You become isolated from the world," she told TODAY. As a Black woman, Fisher's search for a new role has been doubly hard. "When you look for a job and you place what ethnicity you are, it's like you don't even get the interview."
In the face of all the obstacles she's experiencing, Fisher is determined not to give up. "I'm going to keep fighting. I haven't gotten where I want to go, but I'm going to keep fighting until I get there," she said.
Kathleen Viramontes had to make the difficult decision to walk away from her job as a supervisor at Starbucks to take care of her three children while her husband continued working.
Viramontes has struggled with the major shift in her life since leaving Starbucks. Besides the loss of income, she felt like she also lost a part of herself. Viramontes' view of herself as a working woman, a caring mother and wife and independent individual took a big hit. "It was evident to people that knew me, too. They would all tell me, you know, 'You're so much happier when you're working,'" she said.
Moms like Viramontes tend to forego their jobs when their spouses, often men, are paid more, further highlighting the gender pay gap. The burden of managing a household then disproportionately falls on mothers, who are expected not just to take care of their children but assume other responsibilities, including handling chores and caring for elderly parents or disabled family members.
Jody Frisch was working as a veteran consultant but when the pandemic hit, she suddenly learned no one wanted to hire her.
At 64, Frisch told TODAY she was "terrified" when she realized what the pandemic's impact meant for her. She has been relying on her savings to get by but she acknowledged that "financially, it's been devastating." When looking for jobs, Frisch has also noticed how much ageism comes into play. "They look at older women in particular as being riskier. They cost more," she said.
The Biden administration is reviewing the “Marshall Plan for Moms” and already backs initiatives it mentions, such as family leave and subsidized child care. Both the House and Senate will also have to pass the resolution for its policies to go into effect.
For more information about economic support and resources for women in your state, visit the California Work & Family Coalition website.