As Connecticut’s economy seeks to recover and rebuild, our success as a state will depend on how we respond to the disproportionate adverse impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women and girls, particularly women and girls of color.

Our recently released report, Essential Equity: Women, Covid-19 and Rebuilding CT, documents stark and wide-ranging ramifications in areas ranging from health to economic security, child care to housing, mental health to safety and hunger. The significance of ensuring that gender and racial equity is central to developing relief and recovery initiatives is inescapable.

Jennifer Steadman and Michelle Riordan-Nold

Utilizing data drawn from numerous public sources, we learned that in Connecticut, 49% of our workforce is female and 48% of those are working in industries deemed ‘essential.’  In addition, women-owned business, because of the industries where they have the strongest presence — healthcare and social assistance, education services, and retail– have been most at-risk through the pandemic. Without affordable child care and paths to careers with family-sustaining wages, women will not have economic security and the Connecticut economy is less likely to improve.

During the pandemic, females surpassed males in unemployment claims for the first time in Connecticut’s history.  And females of color have accounted for more than one in three of the initial (36%) and continued (43%) unemployment claims filed by females.

For those of us who have long advocated for women and girls, we knew in our hearts that the impact of the pandemic would be devastating.  The data confirmed what was plainly evident, and underscored the imperative to respond.  Among the sit-up-and-take-notice numbers:

  • 19% of females feel no, or only slight, confidence in their ability to pay rent or mortgage next month; for Black females, it is nearly one-third (32%)
  • Nearly one in three families have not been able to find quality child care during the pandemic
  • 76% of parents who had to stay at home and not work due to child care are female
  • three in four females who applied for initial, and continuing, unemployment did not have a college degree
  • 30% increase in calls to the Safe Connect domestic violence hotline, accompanied by a 125% increase in time on calls and 43% increase in costs for safe housing
  • 300% increase in SNAP applications for food assistance; four-fold increase in calls to 211 from individuals seeking help with buying food; 70% of those calls made by females

Now that we have the facts, we can and should work to direct resources to the women and girls who need them and build solutions that will work better for women and girls, and, by extension, for all residents, businesses and communities across Connecticut. Simply put, we need to approach relief and recovery in a way that builds a more equitable future.

Housing insecurity has risen with increased evictions and mortgage delinquency. Many women lost their jobs or struggled to make ends meet due to reduced work hours, causing some to fall behind on essential living expenses, such as rent, utility payments, or providing food for their family.

Females experienced more COVID-19 cases and deaths than males. Hispanic individuals are 16% of the state’s population, yet were 28% of Connecticut’s COVID-19 cases; 10% of the state’s population is Black, yet 15% of COVID-19 cases. The report urges all levels of government to acknowledge that racism is a public health crisis.

In regards to child care, data indicates that approximately 75% of child care providers are private business owners – 92% of which are women-owned – and 3 in 4 closed during the pandemic.  The report recommends a system of universal early education and child care to ensure all families can afford high quality care with well-paid providers and educators in the setting of their choice.

Urging data-driven decision-making, the report also recommends significant investments to improve health care including telehealth, housing and job opportunities, closing gender wage gaps, preventing discrimination, and addressing a digital divide that can no longer be ignored.

Policymakers, government officials, philanthropists, nonprofit service providers, corporations and community members all have a role to play because it is clear that effective and enduring economic recovery will not be possible without strong participation from women.

As the report unequivocally states, “our economy depends on women.”  What we see every day in plain sight, and what the data illustrate, is that if we delay or defer a comprehensive and fully inclusive action, we do so at our collective peril.

Jennifer Steadman is Executive Director of the Aurora Women and Girls Foundation, a member of the Connecticut Collective for Women and Girls, a statewide network which includes organizations supporting the Essential Equity report.  Michelle Riordan-Nold is Executive Director of the Connecticut Data Collaborative, which gathered and analyzed the data. The report and additional data are available at www.womenandgirls.ctdata.org

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