October 7, 2020

Heartland Women Take Care

By Julie Trivitt

Nationwide data indicates the economic effects of the pandemic have been disproportionately harmful to women’s careers.

This is the first in a series of posts comparing the economic consequences of COVID-19 in the Heartland relative to the rest of the country using the Household Pulse Survey data collected by the Census Bureau. The statistics presented here come from the first wave of the HPS which collected information from adults aged 18 – 88 living in the U.S. each week from April 23 – July 21, 2020. During the 12-week survey more than 850,000 people representing all 50 states were surveyed. The data was downloaded from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html.

Nationwide data indicates the economic effects of the pandemic have been disproportionately harmful to women’s careers. Exploring data from the Household Pulse Survey suggests it is due to larger employment interruptions to care for other family members and women of the Heartland may be even more likely to miss work to care for others.

Several researchers using data from various sources have already documented that the employment consequences of the pandemic-induced recession are falling much more heavily on females1. This is partially explained because women are more likely to be in jobs that require them to be physically present at the workplace. It is also partially explained by gender differences in how household tasks are allocated. Women generally spend more time caring for children and family members and doing other things to keep the household running even while holding full-time jobs.

This is true for the entire country and the pattern holds for the Heartland2. In fact, women of the Heartland may have been more impacted when it comes to employment relative to male co-workers according to the HPS data. This analysis considers a couple of specific reasons workers have not been at work in 2020.

The first category considered is people unable to work because of workplace closures or shut-downs. A graph of the percentage of people not working due to a COVID related closure shows very little difference by gender, but a clear pattern by location. In the Heartland, where there were fewer infections in the spring and fewer mandatory closures, employees were less likely to be out of work. The differences across locations are three times as large as the differences across gender due to COVID related closures.

The statistics of those who did not work to care for others tell a different story. The second category considered here is people who are not working because they need to care for family members (i.e., children, elderly relatives) whose normal care arrangements are unavailable. This category does NOT include taking care of people who are ill. Nationwide, females reported missing work to care for others at more than double the rate of males during COVID-19. The lack of care availability was consistently an issue across the Heartland and Non-Heartland states.

When considering the region and gender simultaneously, we find females disproportionately caring for others in both regions, although the gender discrepancy is larger in the Heartland. Over the 12-week survey:

• an average of 1.7 percent of men and 5.1 percent of the women in Non-Heartland states missed work to care for others, and
• In the Heartland states, the averages were 1.6 percent of men and 5.6 percent of women missing work to care for others.

The gender difference is 3.4 percent in the Non-Heartland states and 4.0 percent in the Heartland region. Females in the Heartland states were more likely to miss work to care for others than females in Non-Heartland states in all weeks but the fourth week.

Even when using a model that accounts for the adults' education level and the number of children in the household, females in the Heartland are 0.5% more likely to miss work to care for others than females in Non-Heartland states and 4.1% more likely than males in the Heartland. While these statistics reflect a combination of many aspects of our economy, they clearly suggest an economic recovery, where women fully re-engage in the labor market, will only happen when we find ways to provide care for the children and elderly, and that this need is especially true in the Heartland.

The Household Pulse Survey (HPS) data is utilized because respondents are asked if they worked the previous week, and if not, why not. The categories of reasons for not working included not wishing to work, being ill with the coronavirus, being unable to work due to virus precautions and employer shut-downs, and caring for other family members, such as children or elderly relatives. Exploring the specific reasons for not working provides richer insight into the constraints households face and some of the tough decisions. While the HPS allows 13 different reasons for non-work, the differences across regions are negligible for most of the categories, so only a couple are discussed here.