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Women’s Employment Disproportionately impacted by COVID-19

by elaine ezerins

Vermont Works for Women promotes economic justice by advancing gender equity.

By: Caroline Keller, VWW Data and Evaluation Coordinator, with contributions by Rachel Kauppila, VWW Employment and Career Specialist

In April 2020, Vermont experienced a dramatic increase in unemployment over the month from 3.1% (10,523 people) to 15.6% (54,490 people), the highest level of unemployment measured in Vermont. In other words, unemployment increased by 418% from the previous month.

VT Unemployment , March vs. April 2020 Graph

The official unemployment rate only reflects individuals who lost a job and are actively seeking work in the last 4 weeks, not individuals who:

  • are experiencing reduced hours,
  • have been laid off and are not actively seeking work (because of the real and perceived lack of employment opportunities),
  • are furloughed, depending on responses to the Current Population Survey (CPS).


In short, Vermont’s official unemployment rate of 15.6% most likely underestimates the real impact of COVID-19.

The pandemic has affected women’s employment disproportionately.

Nationally, women have an unemployment rate of 15.5% and men have an unemployment rate of 13.0%.

Looking at CPS data for Vermont, from March to April 2020, women in Vermont experienced an estimated 659.7% increase in unemployment compared to men who experienced an estimated 312.6% increase in unemployment.

Since February, about two-thirds of workers (63.9%) in the Accommodation & Food Services industry have lost their job, which made up nearly a third (31.4%) of total jobs lost in Vermont. 

  • About a quarter of workers (26.6%) in the Retail Trade industry lost their job, which made up 14.7% of total jobs lost in Vermont.
  • Despite the pandemic placing greater demands on our healthcare system, job losses in the Healthcare & Social Assistance industry made up 11% of total job losses.

Notably, women make up the majority of workers in the hardest-hit industries in the U.S. and Vermont.

In Vermont, women make up 81% of tipped workers. They account for 73% of personal care and service workers and 81% of healthcare support workers. Not only are women bearing the majority of job losses, they also make up the majority of essential workers (e.g. cashiers, childcare workers, cleaners, and nurses).

VWW Data: Pre-Covid and Now

Considering state and national economic trends, Vermont Works for Women has been experiencing an influx of women seeking our employment and career services support. From March to May 2020, VWW estimates that the number of individuals served has increased by 27% compared to the same period last year. Our direct service staff of two have been busy, experiencing a rise in the number of meetings with participants by 111% and committing 86% more time working one-on-one with participants.

Participants served in women's employment programs march - mayCOunt of Meetings with Participants, March-May Graph

Women’s Employment and Career Services

Compared to last year, VWW has experienced a greater demand for our women’s employment and career services, which includes our work readiness program, Step In To Work, and career coaching. Compared to the period from March to May of last year, VWW has seen a 54% increase in first-time individuals accessing our services and an 800% increase among those reconnecting to our services.

New vs. Returning Participants Graph

Since the Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order went into effect in March, our women’s employment services have included supporting women applying for unemployment insurance, tracking stimulus payments, searching for jobs, developing resumes/cover letters, transitioning careers, experiencing anxiety around economic insecurity, connecting to community resources, and more.

One woman, Carol, reached out in February because she felt at risk of losing her job at a hospital. This winter, her kids had been sick a lot and as a single parent, she had to take time off of work to care for them. She was interested in making a career change, but wasn’t sure of what opportunities were out there and was concerned about taking a pay cut.

Then in March, Carol was laid off from the hospital because her job was considered non-essential and her children’s daycare closed. Carol’s employer invited her to apply for open essential positions at the hospital, but she was confused about the process of applying for daycare for essential workers and worried there would be a gap in care when her children would transition back to their normal daycare. Additionally, she didn’t feel comfortable taking a public-facing position, risk contracting COVID-19 and bringing it home to her children. Fortunately, she was able to support her family with unemployment insurance plus the federal pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA).

Now that her children’s daycare has re-opened, Carol is able to start looking for work again. VWW assisted her with revising her resume and writing cover letters for various positions outside of the hospital. The hospital offered Carol the opportunity to return in September, but with PUA ending in July, she would have difficulty supporting her children on just unemployment insurance.

Another woman, Kris, began meeting with VWW in December to find work after moving to a new town. Rachel, VWW’s Employment and Career Specialist, assisted Kris with career coaching, streamlining her resume, and writing cover letters that highlighted her relevant experience. As a former preschool teacher, Kris wasn’t sure if she wanted to return to teaching or do something else related to education. She had begun applying for positions and had several interviews, but the pandemic slowed down her job search. Finally, at the end of May, Kris was hired by a preschool with a start date of July 1. Although she will have an hour-long commute, she is grateful to have finally found employment after six months without a job.

Release Meetings at CRCF

As the only female prison in Vermont, Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF), moved to reduce its incarcerated population to minimize the rate of infection, the number of release meetings VWW had with participants increased. Because release meetings are a new service, VWW does not have data to compare to the same period last year. Looking at a 10-month period, VWW saw a significant uptick in individuals served, hours invested, and meetings held. From March to May 2020, VWW had more release meetings (82 meetings) in 3 months than they had in the last 7 months (73 meetings).  VWW served 88% more women from March to May than from December to February.

Release Meetings at CRCF Graph