Covid-19: Remember the Women

One thing that has been sincerely bothering me about this whole Covid scare that I mentioned a couple days ago—as if it wasn’t all over the media already—is how it will most adversely affect women who can least afford it.

The thing is, women aren’t just paid less for equal work in most professions and by many companies, but women also often have to make ends meet in the lowest paying jobs, taking the double hit of low-wage work and lower pay than their male counterparts.

Add to that self-quarantining that South Korea, Italy, and now the United States are doing, at least in a patchwork of states. Many white-collar jobs offering benefits like telework and paid sick leave. But on the lower end of the economic scale, you have women working jobs in the service industry, such as in restaurants or retail. Although some retailers are also offering paid sick leave, it looks like Congress will not require it and so workers are at the whim of their employers when it comes to containing the virus.

Consider, therefore, for a moment, what a single mother who is working in a restaurant. She is paid below minimum wage, a practice under the dangerous assumption that she can make it up in tips. Add to this she has her children home from school so even if she’s healthy she may still need the time off. If she gets the time off, even paid time off, though, she’s still deprived of her tips.

Interestingly, under Virginia law, a server can be paid as little as $2.13 per hour, under the assumption she will be making at least $5.12 per hour in tips. As long as the net is $7.25 per hour, the Virginia state minimum, the Restaurant doesn’t need to pay her the full state minimum wage. Of course, when she takes off, assuming she’s paid, she’ll be paid the minimum wage of $7.25, but now the at best understaffed, and at worst closed restaurant has to pay her $5.12 more per hour to cover the lack of tips.

Keep in mind most restaurants fail. Thus, a two week slowdown or closure could leave a struggling establishment to deeply in the red to recover and if the restaurant fails, that single mother is out of work.

I’ll admit, this isn’t something I’d expect to be a rampant problem in the specific context I’ve just laid out, but consider it one of the many knock-on effects of a fortnight of closures could have on the U.S. Economy. After 9/11, all U.S. commercial air travel was ceased for the rest of the week, only recommencing on Friday, 14 September. Likewise, the New York Stock Exchange remained closed until 10:00, Monday, 20 September. The effects of just those closures on our economy were noticeable though nothing to cause an economic crash, though it did cause as much as $31.6 billion in losses to the insurance industry.

It’s hard to say exactly what the consequences of a fortnight of bringing the U.S. Economy to a grinding standstill, but there will be consequences. And consequences in a quadrennial election year. No-one knows for sure. But one thing we can almost certainly be sure of: it will hurt women the most.

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