Before the pandemic hit, Tia Ferguson worked at Ohio’s largest school district as a substitute teacher. In December 2019, she gave birth three months early to her stillborn son. She had just returned from her unpaid maternity leave in February 2020 when she suddenly became unemployed during the first national shutdown almost a year ago.
After those previous unpaid months off to care for her health and her son, Tia, like too many others, did not have a safety net when this unforeseen crisis struck America. On top of that, her medical issues put her in the high-risk category, making it unsafe for her to return to in-person work for the foreseeable future.
Her story is not an anomaly. The pandemic has crucially affected women in the U.S. workforce, with more than 4 million either laid off or forced to leave the job market since last March according to the latest jobs report. The unemployment rate is 8.9 percent for Black women and 8.5 percent for Latina women, compared to 5.2 percent for white women. Countless women have experienced sharp employment losses because their work was not pandemic-proof or able to be done at home. Add to that an increase in child care needs caused by school and daycare closures that have fallen on the shoulders of mothers, and you have a recipe that’s made it impossible for many women, including myself, to work.