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Report: Women In Northeast Ohio See Higher Rates Of Pandemic Job Loss

The pandemic hit industries primarily dominated by women, including healthcare, education, and accommodations and services. [Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock]
A woman shaking hands with a man whose back is to the camera.

Updated: 5:08 p.m., Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and woman-owned businesses around Northeast Ohio in the last year, according to a report put out by Team NEO this week.

The regional economic development group calculates women make up roughly 61 percent of the local workforce. Prior to the pandemic, they worked about 45 percent of the hours in Northeast Ohio, but they earned an estimated 23 percent less than men, the report said.

During the pandemic, women have faced additional challenges as day care centers and childcare options closed, said Team NEO Vice President of Strategy and Research Jacob Duritsky.

“I don’t think that’s something, regardless of taking mask requirements away or opening up the economy, I don’t think those structural challenges just go away overnight,” Duritsky said.

The pandemic put many women in the position of needing to leave the workforce, the report found, either temporarily or permanently. That creates questions about how women can advance after the pandemic is over, the report said.

“In particular, leaders and activists are pointing out that when trying to reenter the workforce, women may not be able to return at the same level positions and/or wages,” the report said.

The exact number of men and women in Northeast Ohio who have left the workforce isn’t clear yet, Duritsky said, but the area seems to be following national trends, including a higher rate of closures for female-owned businesses.

“So it’s not just their representation from an industry perspective, but also their representation in terms of a business ownership perspective,” Duritsky said.

Cleveland’s economy is made up primarily of married couples, followed by single women. Single men with children make up the smallest portion of the city’s market.

Women were taking on more leadership roles nationally prior to the pandemic, and woman-owned businesses represented 42 percent of all businesses. In Cleveland, just 16 percent of businesses are woman-owned.

But a majority of those businesses were in industries that were shut down or hit hard by the pandemic, according to the report, including beauty salons, day care centers and home health care services. That’s a shift from previous recessions, where job loss was centered in male-dominated fields such as manufacturing and construction.

“Evolving pandemic restrictions, consumer behaviors and child care policies will determine the type and timing of opportunities for women to reenter the workforce and restart their businesses,” the report said.

The wage gap is persistent in the region, Duritsky said, regardless of education level. Women earn less than their male counterparts despite making up a significant portion of the workforce, he said.

“Educational attainment is not necessarily directly correlated with any better chance of earning wages comparable to a man, and in fact, it looks like it grows worse the more education you have,” Duritsky said.

Nationally, about four times as many women lost their jobs or left the workforce than men at one point in 2020, based on a September report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 37 percent of those women were Latina. Healthcare, accommodations and food services, and education, three of the top five sectors for female employment locally, all suffered major job loss, the report said.

But there’s room for growth in other industries as the area rebounds from the pandemic.

“There is significant opportunity for women to pursue in-demand occupations in manufacturing and IT,” the report said. “Regional initiatives – like Team NEO’s Emerging Talent web page – are working to recruit and retain more women to these fields, strengthening the regional workforce.”

Making that shift will require effort on the part of local businesses to accommodate women’s needs, Duritsky said, such as offering childcare options through the workplace and offering more flexible or unlimited personal time off.

“We cannot fill all of these in-demand jobs if we don’t have something like equal representation. And that may require some more creative solutions,” Duritsky said.