Findings from a recent study, The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Connecticut’s Women,” turned up what many people already knew:  women were significantly and negatively impacted by the pandemic, which hit hard on their ability to stay in the workforce, balance work and family, keep their earning potential and advance professionally.

The Wilton League of Women Voters and the Working Moms of Wilton teamed up to host a presentation on the study findings, last Thursday, May 13.

In October, when the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women in Connecticut (PCSW) launched the study, Ann Pettigrew Nunes, who is an active member of both Working Moms of Wilton and the Wilton LWV Steering Committee, connected several members of Working Moms to the PCSW so they could participate.

Founder and admin of the group, Vivian Lee-Shiue, explained how the Working Moms of Wilton group has been especially supportive of its members during the pandemic.

“One of the most active topics over the course of the past year has been the struggle – emotionally, logistically, and professionally – of managing our children and households in the pandemic environment while having to remain employed. It has been really helpful to get ideas from other moms about how to juggle our competing priorities in this environment and has been validating and comforting to know that we are not alone in our struggles,” she said.

Last Thursday, Tina Courpas, Executive Director of PCSW was invited to present the study’s findings.

“Last spring we all saw the data and read the stories on the national level about the childcare system in crisis and women being laid off or leaving the workforce in record numbers,” began Courpas.

The study, which consisted of a written survey and focus groups, was meant to measure and quantify this impact on women in CT.

Overall, 1,020 respondents who reflected the diversity of CT as a whole, answered questions relating to work and pay, housing and living security, healthcare and health, personal safety, and education.

In most categories, low-income women, Latina women, and women of two or more races suffered more than the average respondent.

Work and Pay

Courpas reported that 26.5% of working women lost their jobs or were furloughed during the pandemic. Lower-income women reported lower employment levels, and higher-income women reported higher employment levels.

Additionally, 33.0% of respondents experienced a decrease in total household income.

The survey also measured women’s ability to work or return to work, finding that 68.2% of respondents indicated that their ability to work or return to work had been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Driving factors included a change to work situation, children home due to school closures, lack of childcare, homeschool responsibilities, and other “home” work.

One-third of the pool cited the need for support to balance work and childcare responsibilities as the single factor that would most support their economic recovery.

There were 16.1% of respondents who reported a negative impact on their long-term career advancement.

“This number indicates a far-reaching and long-term effect of the pandemic, as it relates to women’s ability to recover income, tenure, and potential,” Courpas said.

Housing and Food Security 

Almost one-quarter (23.3%) of respondents indicated that their housing security had been negatively impacted overall, and 11.5% of respondents reported a decreased ability to buy food.

Healthcare and Health

More than one-third (35.4%) of survey respondents indicated that their healthcare had been negatively impacted.

Respondents were asked to cite which factors negatively impacted their health.
An overwhelming 59.3% of respondents reported that they got sick from COVID-19, developed secondary health issues, had a sick family member, or faced anxiety or depression due to COVIVD-19.

Alarmingly, 49.8% of respondents reported an impairment of their mental health.

“Participants expressed guilt over reduced productivity at work, difficulty juggling professional and family life, isolation and lack of outlets, stress over compromised college and job prospects particularly in the college pool that we surveyed, the combined effect of COVID-19 with the Black Lives Matter movement and other societal disruptions of 2020, and finally anxiety and fear over the constant need to adapt to changing circumstances and grieving the loss of loved ones.”

Personal Safety

Domestic violence increased during the pandemic:  14.1% of respondents responded that they or someone they knew was in a domestic violence situation. The study revealed that for 30.4% of women, their domestic violence situation either developed or got worse since March 2020.

Education

Finally, the PCSW study revealed the impact of COVID-19 on women’s education:  68.5% of survey respondents who were a student or had a student in their household reported that their educational progress has been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Women ages 18-25 and 36-55 reported the highest impact, saying COVID-19 impaired their ability to pay tuition and access opportunities. This was felt disproportionately by women at lower income levels.

Recommendations

The PCSW study included recommendations that could help women in CT recover from the problems outlined in the report.

Work and Pay 

  • Support working women with families to balance the demands of work and home
  • Fully implement Paid Family Medical Leave
  • Use the next two years of federal stimulus to pilot programs, develop a track record, and establish longevity in order to avoid the “cliff” following Federal stimulus
  • Support efforts to lower the gender pay gap and provide equal pay for the same or substantially similar work

Housing and Food Security

  • Support measures that provide financial relief to renters for rent and some utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Support efforts for temporary mortgage forbearance in the form of a temporary payment suspension or reduction to promote homeowner housing stability
  • Utilize public assistance grant funding from the Federal government (e.g., FEMA) to expand food banks and food insecurity programs for at-risk populations
  • Increase SNAP program eligibility and maximize benefits for SNAP recipients

Healthcare and Health

  • Expand access to affordable, quality healthcare
  • Elevate awareness of the importance of mental health issues

Personal Safety

  • Elevate domestic violence (in all forms) as a significant factor in Court proceedings
  • Continue COVID-era policy that restraining orders may be filed remotely and do not require verification by a Notary Public
  • Work with state and local government to provide safety within courthouses for victims of family violence

Education

  • Provide consistent statewide guidelines to safely reopen schools for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year
  • Support efforts or allocation of relief towards college tuition assistance or loan forgiveness, to lessen the impact on college and career progression