COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact women in unique, disproportionate ways

Anna Saunders
Posted at 5:37 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 23:36:13-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted work issues that are unique to women, many of whom are still forced to choose between family and work one year after the crisis started.

Anna Saunders recently had the option to start bartending full-time again.

"But if I did that, then somebody else would have lost their job," Saunders said.

She felt conflicted.

"The business is picking up a little bit as the vaccines are coming out, but I can definitely tell you there's not enough shifts for every person," Saunders said. "I needed to have the time with my kids and have the patience with them and just work my few days a week at the bar and someone still gets to have their job."

Saunders' situation offers a peek into the challenge many working women have, balancing a job with empathy while also trying to be there for her family.

Many children still aren't back in school and child care is expensive and can hard to get,

Many businesses still aren't fully reopened either, which is a big reasons why women have lost 5.1 million jobs since last February, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor statistics.

Saunders' kids are still in virtual learning.

"I don't think I'll be going back full-time anytime soon, so I basically started my own business and (am) doing what I have to do, what I can do from my house," Saunders said.

She makes face masks, aprons, pillows and sells some of her work art shows on the weekends. Her sister helps watch her 14-month-old while she hustles on the side.

"There's no way I could afford to put my kids in a day care system and try to get a full-time job," Saunders said. "I would've just been paying for day care."

Since the start of the pandemic, 2.3 million women left the workforce compared to 1.8 million men. Women also dominate the workforce in industries hit the hardest by emergency orders — including the retail, service, hospitality and child care sectors.

Women make up the majority of the service sector in both Kansas and Missouri. Additionally, eight out every 10 health care professionals in the two states are women — who make up less than 57 percent of the workforce participation rate, the lowest since 1988.

"Dropping out of the workforce is going to be a long-term impact on our economy, on what this looks like as women are contributing to their 401Ks or retirement funds," Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of United Women's Empowerment, said.

United Women's Empowerment is fighting for key issues like a permanent paid family leave plan and better child care.

The nonprofit helped Jackson County establish a 12-week paid parental leave plan for its employees last summer.

Furthermore, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women with low incomes, women of color and single mothers.

One in four Missouri households and one in five Kansas households are run by single mothers.

"COVID recovery is a woman's issue," Doyle said. "We as policymakers, as constituents, we all need to be talking about solutions to get women back into the workforce."

Saunders was collecting $118 a week in unemployment, which covered two utilities payments, at best.

"The people hit so hard are the bar industry and restaurant industry, and you're getting paid nothing," Saunders said. "I've been working in the bar industry for over 20 years and I get $118 a week?"

Saunders' family was a recipient of Charlie Hustle's Heart of KC Foundation "1K for KC" initiative, a fun formed specifically to help people facing eviction due to the pandemic. It helped the family afford six months of mortgage payments.

She feels that, although neighbors are helping each other out, the government needs to "step up."

"You need more women, because we think about these things," Saunders said.