We have all seen the heartrending photos and videos. They are of nurses, mostly. As a large part of America’s frontline against COVID-19, the media has determined that nurses and other healthcare workers are now “newsworthy.” But there is a deeper story here. It is about American women in general.
Actually, it was the “Gray Lady,” the venerable New York Times, that first focused my attention on the real unsung heroes of this pandemic—women. Underpaid, taken for granted, expected to work for less pay, raise the kids, take care of the parents, and when they have time, maybe sleep for a few hours.
During this pandemic lock-down of the nation, a number of industries have been deemed “essential.” That means that without these jobs, the basic needs of an economy would freeze up, causing untold hardship for everyone. Obviously, healthcare workers are an essential industry, as are law enforcement and safety personnel. Other industries that supply goods and services are essential as are financial services, food processing, transit, defense, utilities, agriculture, delivery and transportation, just to mention a few.
Of these industries, women represent 52% of all essential workers. The Times cross- checked the latest census data with the Federal government’s essential workers guidelines and determined that one in three essential jobs are held by women.
In some industries, like healthcare for example, women account for nine out of ten nurses and nursing assistants, most respiratory therapists, as well as the majority of pharmacy aides and technicians. I have firsthand knowledge of this group of women, because many healthcare workers are clients of ours. They are the hardest working, bravest slice of humanity I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
There are 19 million healthcare workers in this country–almost three times the number employed in farming, law enforcement, and package delivery, which are mostly male dominated. But you can also find a preponderance of women in other jobs that force them into clear and present danger. Grocery clerks, bank tellers, like my sister, and those who man fast food counters are far more likely to be women than men.
But let’s not confine this discussion to just essential workers. Women workers, overall, have suddenly been presented with at least double their normal workload. Under different circumstances, working from home might be considered a perk, but not during the pandemic, especially if you are married with children. My 40-year-old daughter is an example.
Married, with two children, ages 8 and 5, Jackie is working from home. Her normal support system has disappeared. There is no childcare, school, or domestic help. Even take-out food is scarce. As a full-time employee, she is still expected to produce, show-up (at least digitally), and devote the usual number of hours a day to her workplace.
“The virus has effectively quadrupled my workday,” she said, as she and her family hunker down in Long Island.
“I am managing two kids in “virtual” school, while working fulltime. In addition, I am cleaning constantly, managing the work/play schedules for two young kids, who have had to adjust to a whole new way of life. That’s not to mention cooking three meals a day, Every day.”
As for the fact that her job is not listed as essential, she says, “That’s BS. Three out of three women in this country are essential. We are essential to our households, to our families and to our jobs. This pandemic just makes it harder to deny.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.