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The pandemic made things even worse for working women over 40

In the age of covid, older female workers have become even more vulnerable to job losses and age discrimination

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Covid made things much harder for a lot of workers, but it has been financially devastating for many older women.

One of the most defining and troubling aspects of the pandemic is how badly it has affected women. And now a new report from AARP finds that when you dig further into the numbers, the financial fallout from the pandemic has been more pronounced for mid-career and older workers.

Since the beginning of 2020, a large percentage of female workers 40 to 65 lost their jobs (14 percent), saw their work hours reduced (13 percent), were furloughed (9 percent) or had their salary or hours cut (4 percent).

Job losses for Black and Hispanic women were higher than for White and Asian women — 20 percent for Black women and 23 percent for Hispanic women, compared with 13 percent for White women and 14 percent for Asian women.

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While unemployment has dropped significantly since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 70 percent of women over 40 who are still unemployed have been out of work for six months or more.

With so many employers complaining they can’t find workers, you may be wondering what gives.

Well, lots of women are overqualified for the entry-level or low-paying service-related jobs being advertised. Or they find employers don’t want to hire them because of their age. Nearly one-third of older women cite age discrimination as an impediment to finding a job.

Linda Sussman is 65 and lives in Manhattan. She’s a seasoned public health professional and is having trouble even getting an interview. Sussman took time off to raise her son, who’s now 17, but she has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of family planning, human sexuality and women’s reproductive health.

Even before the pandemic, Sussman said, she was having trouble rejoining the workforce. Covid made her job search much worse.

“People don’t even return your calls or acknowledge receipt of your résumé,” she said. “I have so many friends my age who were either laid off or furloughed because of covid. They have not gone back to work, not because they don’t want to or need to — they can’t. There’s no work. It’s not that there’s no work, because we all know there’s a worker shortage. They just don’t want people our age.”

America’s unemployed are sending a message: They’ll go back to work when they feel safe — and well-compensated

It comes down to this: There’s a trifecta effect for older unemployed women. In looking for work, they are more likely to face age discrimination. Once they lose their jobs, they experience a longer period of unemployment. And if they do find work, they often have to take a pay cut.

Caregiving issues have also exacerbated already tenuous job situations. Women were limited to certain shifts or couldn’t work full time, because they were caring for a child or a grandchild. This finding makes the case to continue or expand flexible work.

The economic recovery is getting messy. Just ask working women.

And of course, losing one’s job affects one’s ability to handle everyday expenses, and this leads to more debt. Nearly one-quarter of women who lost their income increased their credit card debt. Twenty percent had to borrow money from family, and 11 percent were forced to take money from a retirement savings account.

Here’s why this report matters, said Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience programming at AARP. As the United States recovers from the pandemic, we’ve got to consider the disparate impact on older women. If their employment is severely disrupted and their income lower, this affects their retirement security. We already know that far too many people are forced to live on just Social Security. According to Gallup, 57 percent of retired U.S. adults say they rely on Social Security as a major income source.

“That work or job is a key to your financial resilience,” Weinstock said in an interview. “Having the ability to have a decent job that pays a good salary is going to give you the ability to be financially secure.

Covid took one year off the financial life of the Social Security retirement fund

The accumulation of debt to make ends meet will also push women further back financially. Pessimism about their ability to recover was profound. Many women whose financial situations got worse during the pandemic believe their financial recovery could take as long as five years, according to the AARP report.

“That credit card debt is going to come back to haunt them for years with the high interest rates,” Weinstock said. “Every year they are in debt or having trouble just compounds. Just like compound interest can be so helpful, it can work in the other direction, putting you in a worse-off situation.”

Even if they are employed or find a job, older women are worried about furloughs or layoffs in the next year.

“Economic recovery should include additional help for caregivers and flexible work options, as well as continued efforts to eliminate age discrimination in both hiring and access to opportunities at work,” the AARP report said.

Well said, because this isn’t just a women’s issue.