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COVID-19 Cost Women Globally Over $800 Billion in Lost Income in One Year

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Women’s lost income in 2020 totaled the combined wealth of 98 countries

The COVID-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries, said Oxfam today. Globally, women lost more than 64 million jobs last year —a 5 percent loss, compared to a 3.9 percent loss for men.

"Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs. Instead of righting that wrong, governments treated women’s jobs as dispensable —and that has come at a cost of at least $800 billion in lost wages for those in formal employment,” said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

“This conservative estimate doesn’t even include wages lost by the millions of women working in the informal economy —domestic workers, market vendors and garment workers— who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been cut drastically. COVID-19 has dealt a striking blow to recent gains for women in the workforce,” said Bucher.

While women were losing out, companies like Amazon were thriving. Amazon gained $700 billion in market capitalization in 2020. The $800 billion in income lost by women worldwide also just tops the $721.5 billion that the US government spent in 2020 on the world’s largest defense budget.

In the US, Black, Asian, Latinx and other women of color who are experiencing the highest rates of unemployment are overrepresented in low-paid sectors that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, including retail, tourism and food services. Globally, women also make up roughly 70 percent of the world’s health and social care workforce —essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk from COVID-19.

Women have also been more likely than men to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours during the pandemic, largely due to care responsibilities. Even before the virus struck, women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

“For women in every country on every continent, along with losing income, unpaid care work has exploded. As care needs have spiked during the pandemic, women —the shock absorbers of our societies— have stepped in to fill the gap, an expectation so often imposed by sexist social norms,” said Bucher.

The effects of these dramatic changes will be unevenly felt for years to come. In the US, 1 in 6 women of color are facing food insecurity because of the pandemic. An additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day in 2021. According to the World Economic Forum, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years due to negative outcomes for women in 2020.

“It took a crisis to make the invisible visible. Like transportation, energy and technology, caring for children, the sick and elderly, is essential for all other work to take place,” said Mara Bolis, Associate Director of Women’s Economic Empowerment at Oxfam America. “Our systems failed women at the start of the pandemic, and we’re all paying the price. This is why care must be at the center of our economic recovery plans for lasting change.”

In the US, our nation’s leaders must stay the course in supporting low-income women of color which began with the American Rescue Plan’s significant investments in supporting working families and women through greater unemployment benefits, expanding the Child Tax Credit, and infusing $39 billion into the child care sector. The American Jobs Plan followed by the American Families Plan could go a long way to investing in our nation’s care infrastructure at the same level as our nation’s roads and bridges. Strengthening the care infrastructure means that women – who do the most unpaid care – have the time to invest in their careers and education, while underpaid care workers are paid the salaries and receive the benefits that they deserve.

“As we move from emergency measures to long-term recovery, governments around the world must seize this opportunity to build more equal, more inclusive economies for all. They must invest in a gender, racial and climate-just economic recovery that prioritizes public services, social protection, fair taxation, and ensure everyone everywhere has access to a free vaccine,” added Bucher.

“A fair and sustainable economic recovery is one that supports women’s employment and unpaid care work through strong social safety nets and vibrant care infrastructures. Recovery from COVID-19 is impossible without women recovering.”

Notes to editors

Photos and stories of working women and mothers impacted by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic are available for download.

Women’s total income loss is an estimate derived from the change in the number of women working between the years 2019 and 2020, as captured in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) indicator: Employment by sex and age -- ILO modelled estimates, Nov. 2020 (thousands) — Annual. To achieve our income loss figure, Oxfam first estimated the average income among women globally and then multiplied this figure by the number of women working in 2019 and 2020. The average income figure comes from the International Labour Organization’s indicator: Mean nominal monthly earnings of employees by sex and economic activity for the year 2019. The ILO's monthly earnings data includes fifty countries representing every region of the world. The monthly averages are multiplied by twelve to estimate an annual earnings figure. We keep women’s annual average income constant between 2019 and 2020 (2019 is the last year there is data available). The calculation is an estimate and is susceptible to data limitations. For example, using average income among women globally diminishes the extent of economic inequality among women. Further, regarding data describing employment by sex, the ILO cautions: Imputed observations are not based on national data, are subject to high uncertainty and should not be used for country comparisons or rankings.

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