Economic "Shecession": Erie's Female Workforce and Households

October 28th, 2020, 9:15 AM

A few months ago, Erie Vital Signs performed a back-to-school analysis focusing on distance-learning and the new budgetary stresses that a child, learning remotely and requiring parental supervision, may place on a household (even if they're not one of the ~6,000 digitally disadvantaged households in Erie County). That analysis briefly touched on the earning potentials of dual-income households, but in the intervening months multiple reports have begun to delve deeper into the reality of exacerbated income inequity, and stand as the basis for the following analysis focusing on the female workforce in Erie County.

Preparing data for this month's blog post the following table emerged:

It's a coincidence that these results are nearly exact inversions of one another. It's not some statistical rule or economics trick. There are 550 occupation categories between the top and bottom 50s, and increasing the number of occupations in the sample begins to level them out, but it never evens them out. It is a near-perfectly balanced highlight of the occupational imbalance which faces Erie's female workforce.

Analyzing median salaries across the 650 separate occupation categories within Erie County, disaggregated by gender, we find that the median salary for males is $43,166.91 while just $37,791.24 for female earners. Important to note, this $5,375.67 gap – a 12.5% difference – does not reflect an equity gap per employee (but that is a reality just the same between genders), but it does illuminate the types of positions and pay rates which Erie's female workforce more densely occupy. Across the whole of our economy Erie's women are earning less. What some research and advocacy groups are tuning into is that, like with many other of its implications, COVID-19 is also disproportionately affecting women.

Brookings puts it well in this month's inspiratory essay (Why has COVID-19 been especially harmful for working women?) by saying, "COVID-19 is hard on women because the U.S. economy is hard on women, and this virus excels at taking existing tensions and ratcheting them up." In line with our back-to-school blog, this July WIA Report finds that working mothers have taken on more of the resulting childcare responsibilities and are more frequently reducing their hours or leaving their jobs entirely in response.

According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, Erie County's female workforce participation is 72.9% (77.7% for males). For females with children the rate jumps to 77.6%. For females with children between the ages of 6 to 17 that participation rate peaks at 81.7%. Annual unemployment shows that these women also experience higher unemployment rates than either the male or female cohort as a whole, at 6.2% unemployment for females with children between the ages of 6 to 17, and at 7.2% for females with children below the age of 6. Below is the breakout of all these figures for Erie County, as presented by the U.S. Census.

The women and families that this data represents are more likely, as we discussed above, to be in lower-paying occupations regardless of industry, even before the economic downturn of 2020. The U.S. Census reports out similarly disaggregated household income data (which we annually update on our Household Income page). For the latest data year, the median income in Erie County for Married-couple households was $78,165, it was $85,363 for households with children under 18 years old. For single male householders with no wife present it was $48,689, for those single male householders with children it was a comparable $48,308. For single female householders with no husband present, their median household income was just $30,021, and for single female householders with children it dropped to $23,964.

While analyzing the median incomes of single-female households, we found a report by Institute for Women's Policy Research showing that by May unemployment for single mothers had already tripled. Nationwide, a third of single mothers were already living below the poverty line, in Erie County that number is 42.6%, in Erie City it's 48.5%. As is often the case, these disparities exist even more concentrated in our city than in Erie County as a whole. Below you'll find the comparison of data for the county and the city, that female unemployment occurs at nearly a third more in our city, and that median household incomes fall even lower for single-female families.


Brooking's article outlines potential solutions to begin to remedy the nationwide situation for the female workforce, solutions that should do more than provide temporary support to working women. Their top concerns are rooted in permanent federal paid parental leave, raising the federal minimum wage, eliminating the tipped minimum wage, and incentivizing wage transparency. In May of this year the New York Times quoted the president and chief executive of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, C. Nicole Mason, who first dubbed the fallout of the COVID-19 economic downturn as a "shecession", after analyzing the already disproportioned effect of female unemployment. At that time she lauded congressional actions such as basic income and paid sick leave. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides 12 weeks of parental paid leave through the end of the year, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) provided enhanced unemployment benefits that reduced poverty rates and included direct aid to states.

Remember: all the figures presented above are historical. These numbers, already inequitable, are the result of the status quo in Erie County, and represent a norm in economically stable times. We won't know the measured impacts and historical lows and highs of income and poverty until too long after it's felt by those who were already steeped well within the at-risk economic conditions. As we experience the final quarter of 2020, we will see more of the legislative provisions expire and our counties and cities shoulder the weight of the ongoing fallout. We can hope and advocate that the concerns of more-acutely affected citizens are addressed in these and future regulations and measures nationally and locally. You can see how Erie County plans to disperse its CARES Act funding and regular updates on its allocation hub site.

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