At Hearing, Experts and Affected Worker Highlight Need to Provide Crucial Benefits for Working Women

May 18, 2022
Press Release
Memorandum released today by Select Subcommittee details how pandemic disproportionately harmed hourly women workers at 12 major U.S. companies

Washington, D.C. (May 17, 2022) – Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, held a hearing with experts on women’s labor issues and an affected worker to address the disproportionate burdens that low-wage women in the workforce have shouldered during the pandemic and how the federal government could better support those workers to ensure a more equitable post-pandemic recovery.  The hearing follows the Select Subcommittee’s release of a staff memorandum finding that in 2020, women working for hourly wages at 12 large U.S. companies disproportionately experienced negative employment outcomes compared to their male hourly coworkers. 
Chairman Clyburn said in his opening statement, “Women in low-wage jobs are more likely to be the sole or primary breadwinner for their household.  This means they often must balance the burden of making sure their household has enough food on the table with the challenge of taking care of children or elderly parents. For these women, there is rarely a rainy day fund to fall back on: every day’s wages are necessary to making sure they can pay their rent and put enough food on the table.  Far too often, these workers face the difficult choice of either taking care of a sick child or going to work to try to earn enough to support their family. … To build an equitable and thriving economy, we must take further action to address underlying disparities and eliminate barriers to workforce participation.” 
Today’s witnesses were: Dr. C. Nicole Mason, President & Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Women's Policy Research; Dr. Yana van der Meulen Rodgers, Professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations and Faculty Director, Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University; Vicki Shabo, Senior Fellow for Paid Leave Policy and Strategy, Better Life Lab, New America; Cynthia Murray, Fitting Department Associate, Walmart; and Mary Katharine Ham, CNN Commentator and Author. 
During today’s hearing, the witnesses testified to the following: 

Women in Low-Wage, Hourly Positions Faced Disproportionate Barriers to Full Workforce Participation During the Coronavirus Crisis, Likely Due to Lack of Access to Crucial Benefits.  

  • Dr. Mason explained in her opening statement that “during the early months of the pandemic, women lost four times as many jobs as men, triggering a ‘she-cession,’ an economic downturn defined by income and job losses in sectors dominated by women—service, leisure and hospitality, education, and healthcare.” 

  • In response to a question by Rep. Nydia Velázquez about the challenges faced by working women of color, Dr. Mason explained that “Black and Latina women, because of caretaking responsibilities and demands and the lack of paid sick and family leave, were more likely than other women to exit the workforce.” 

  • Ms. Murray emphasized the need for large companies to stop ignoring worker needs: “We are deemed essential workers. Treat us like that. We do not need just the 40 cents a year raise. That does nothing for any worker in the country.” 

Poor Employment Outcomes Fueled by the Pandemic Risk Further Exacerbating Inequalities for Women in Low-Income Jobs and Limiting Economic Growth.  

  • Ms. Shabo said in her opening statement that “pundits and business leaders often speak of a labor force ‘shortage,’ but what we really have as a country is a shortage of policies, practices and supports. This deficit forces too many people into impossible situations. Their ability to care, to stay safe, to be healthy and to protect and provide for their families is in jeopardy. And at high costs: measured in losses to families’ economic security and health, losses to businesses and losses to the economy.” 

  • Dr. Rodgers explained: “One of the fundamental inputs into economic growth is the input of workers. . . . So when women are withdrawing from the labor force because of constraints that they face, that . . . puts a damper on economic growth.” 

  • Ms. Shabo testified: “More than any other moment in modern history, the coronavirus crisis has revealed the ways in which our current practices, systems, and policies fail workers, families, businesses and the economy. Inequalities by gender, race, and income have widened, particularly when it comes to people’s ability to work and care. The current moment of gridlock and inaction is untenable in the short term, and will cause significant harm and danger and loss in the longer-term.” 

Congress Must Enact National Paid Leave and Expand Child Care Initiatives to Build a Stronger and More Inclusive Post-Crisis Economy.  

  • In response to a question by Chairman Clyburn about what measures would help low-wage women workers participate equally in the workforce, Ms. Murray emphasized the importance of paid family leave, paid sick leave, and access to healthcare to herself and her colleagues: “We need to stop pushing workers to come to work sick because they get penalized for missing a day. . . . We need better healthcare for workers that work the hours that they work. In child care, we need to do a whole lot better for our working mothers that have to take time off when they’re sick.” 

  • Ms. Shabo explained the value of paid leave during a health crisis, explaining that “when workers have access to paid sick time, they are more likely to take themselves out of the workforce for a shorter period of time. They’re more likely to get healthcare that they need in an acute way. They’re more likely to get preventive healthcare, people are healthier. . . . [E]ven the limited temporary policy that Congress put in place in/on a bipartisan basis at the beginning of this pandemic prevented 15,000 cases of COVID per day nationwide.” 

  • Ms. Shabo testified about the proven value of paid family and medical leave programs: “We know from states that have paid family and medical leave programs in place . . . that women are better able to stay employed, they have wages that go up over time. . . . We know that women who are caregivers to older people or disabled adults are able to come back to work.” 

Curtailment of Reproductive Rights Will Harm Female Workers and Further Exacerbate Gender Inequities in the Workforce. 

  • Dr. Rodgers emphasized that reproductive rights are also crucial to ensuring gender equity in the workforce: “There is no gender equality in the workplace without paid family leave, without access to affordable child care, and without full access to reproductive health services, including access to safe abortion. . . . There’s as much as an 11% increase in women’s labor supply when we have a reduction in abortion restrictions, which could lead to an increase in GDP per capita of up to 7%.” 

Click here to view the Chairman’s opening statement in full. 

Click here to watch the full hearing and view the witnesses’ written testimonies. 

117th Congress