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Female Workers Could Take Another Pandemic Hit: To Their Retirements

Women are overrepresented in industries experiencing the highest job loss, according to a recent report published by the Y.W.C.A. U.S.A. Latina, Black and Asian-American women have been hit hardest, the report found. Many entered the pandemic earning less, and they have experienced higher jobless rates in the downturn, said a co-author of the report, Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, assistant dean at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

“They already were vulnerable, and many may never become fully employed again,” she said.

Even a short-term interruption in wages can have a surprisingly large impact on retirement. Each year out of the work force translates into losses considerably larger than the immediate salary over the arc of a career, according to research by the Center for American Progress. The losses compound over time in the form of missed wage growth, retirement savings and Social Security benefits, as illustrated by a calculator developed by the center.

For example, a 35-year-old woman earning $80,000 a year who leaves the work force for five years can expect to lose $197,000 in retirement assets and benefits, assuming she retires at age 67, according to the calculator.

“My biggest worry about what’s going to happen as a result of this recession in the longer term is that we’ll be setting back families dramatically,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist with the center who developed the calculator.

Jobless rates for women have spiked. Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force in September alone, and barely half that number returned during October and November, according to Center for American Progress research.

For Edith Ben Ari, the breaking point came in August. She was struggling to balance her job as head of a school in Oakland, Calif., for children who have learning disabilities with the needs of her two children, ages 8 and 6. Her parents, in their 80s, live nearby and are in good health, but the pandemic also focused her on the possible need to pivot attention in their direction at any moment.

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