Pandemic Takes Greater Toll on Women’s Employment, Highlights Disparity in the Workforce

Special Reports

DES MOINES, Iowa — Baking is in Alisa Woods’ blood. She’s been at it since she was a little girl.

“So my grandma was a tremendous baker,” Woods explains, “she baked for the Iowa State Fair and her mom actually had an in-home bakery.”

It may be part of her legacy, but Woods never envisioned doing this for a living.  “My degree is in sports management and the joke was always, even if the economy is bad we’re still going to have sports!” she laughs, ”Until a worldwide pandemic hits and then there’s no sports, there’s no events, no nothing.”

When she lost her job she was on maternity leave with a newborn and a toddler at home, but she never saw herself being home long term. “I loved my job and the company and the people.”

Because of the pandemic hundreds of thousands of women are no longer working. Their jobs were eliminated or they quit to stay home with kids who were no longer in school or daycare.

“Some of the disparities were just further exacerbated in this situation,” says Dr. Ann Oberhauser. She’s a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Iowa State University and says early research shows the pandemic is setting women back by decades.

“Women tended to have higher unemployment and higher job loss when the pandemic hit and that’s continued,” she explains, “even as jobs have come back women have not gained those jobs back as men have.”

The numbers tell the story. Recent studies show four times as many women as men left the workforce last fall. It amounts to more than sixty million dollars a year in lost wages and economic activity.

“It might last for two or three years but the economic impact may be a lifetime in some cases to make up for income or advancement that’s been lost,” says Dr. Oberhauser.

Women like Alisa never expected to be out of the workforce for longer than their short stints of maternity leave. “I had lived 35 years knowing that the truth was my value was wrapped up in my work, so it was a tough pill to swallow,” she sighs, “maybe I did still have value but I needed to find it somewhere else.”

She didn’t expect to find it in the kitchen “I had to choose to pinch the pennies and make ends meet and do the thing that got me excited.”

For now, that’s perfecting a rose’ filling and shooting pictures for Instagram.

“So many women want to keep working and it stinks that 2020 took that from them,” Woods says, “you have to be creative and do the things that set your soul on fire.”

Woods’ business is called Sift-N-Sprinkle.  You’ll find her on Instagram here.

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