Women Workers in NE Ohio Hardest Hit by Pandemic

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated already alarming gaps in wages and opportunities between men and women in northeastern Ohio’s workforce, according to a new study issued by Team NEO.

The report, “Lost Opportunities: The Pandemic’s Impact on Northeastern Ohio’s Working Women,” mirrors a national trend that shows women were four times as likely to leave the workforce during the pandemic than men.  

Moreover, women in couple households were twice as likely to leave work because of child-care responsibilities during the pandemic, the new study shows. 

“It disproportionately fell to women,” said Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research at Team NEO, during a virtual event discussing the report Wednesday. 

“We know that the sectors represented most highly by women – health care, accommodations, education – represented some of the deepest declines that we saw in northeast Ohio’s economy,” Duritsky said. 

According to the report, women in northeastern Ohio make up a majority of the labor force in many of the hardest hit occupations during the pandemic.  These include teachers, insurance agents, restaurant workers, restaurant owners, beauty stylists, salon owners and child-care providers.  These industries generate a significant share of their revenue from a client base that is primarily women, the report said.

This impact is especially concerning since women comprise more than half of the working poor in northeastern Ohio, according to the report. About 61% of those employed in the region and live below the poverty level are women.

“This is not sustainable in northeast Ohio,” Duritsky said.

The study also revealed that women-owned businesses were at higher risk during the pandemic than those owned by men. That’s because women-owned businesses in the region are largely concentrated in health care, professional services, retail, accommodation, food services, other services and administrative support, according to a 2017 annual business survey.  

These sectors were especially vulnerable to the pandemic, the study notes, and accounted for a loss of 35,000 jobs in the region during 2020.

However the study emphasized that the pandemic aggravated an already deep problem for women in northeastern Ohio.

In 2019, for example, women in the region earned 23% less than men while representing 45% of all hours worked, the report said. At the same time, more women nationally were taking on leadership roles: vice president roles grew from 23% to 28% and from 17% to 21% in C-suite positions.

 “It shows an unequal playing field before the pandemic,” Duritsky said. “We have to solve this.”

On average, men in northeastern Ohio’s workforce earned $52,500 annually versus $40,500 for women, the study said. The study also points to a wide disparity in earning opportunity among those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“In northeast Ohio, the more education you have, the wider the gap grows,” Duritsky said.  “A woman with a bachelor’s degree on average earns the same as a man with an associate’s degree.”

For professional degrees, women on average earn $21,800 less per year than men with the same education, the study found.

Ironically, women on average possess a higher rate of obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher, including graduate degrees in today’s workforce, Duritsky said.  

“Women represent a higher rate of education,” he said. “The challenge is that education has not led to an equitable outcome.”

Those participating in the virtual discussion said that significant work still needs to be done in terms of closing this gap.

“I felt what is shocking is that 45% of the hours worked were women, but two-thirds of them were working in poverty,” said Sarah Nash, chairwoman, CEO and president of Navagard.  

Margaret Trimmer, vice president of strategic partnerships at Delta Dental; Rachael Sampson, national director of Key4 Women at KeyBank; and Lisa Aurillio, chief operating officer at Akron Children’s Hospital, said they were disheartened at how education has not helped bridge wage disparity between men and women.

“I’ve always been an advocate to girls and women to pursue that higher education, and this report doesn’t really show it pays off,” Aurillio said. 

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.