Statement on Pandemic’s Effect on the Gender Pay Gap

The following is a statement from Kate Nielson, AAUW’s Senior Director of Public Policy, Legal Advocacy, & Research:

On September 14, 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics released data indicating that, in 2020, women were paid 83 cents for every dollar paid to a man. While the numbers show that the gender pay gap closed slightly amidst the chaos of COVID-19, this data point is highly misleading. The unfortunate story behind the statistic is that the pandemic has been devastating for women and their families, reversing the progress women have made in recent decades.

Millions of women lost their jobs during the first year of the pandemic and remained out of work for a long time. Additionally, countless more women left the workforce completely to deal with child care, homeschooling and other domestic responsibilities. These women are absent completely from the calculation on which today’s pay gap figure is based. Couple that with the fact that women make up the majority of the low-wage workforce, which experienced especially devastating cuts over the past 18 months, and it contributes to the appearance that women’s wages actually rose in comparison to men’s wages.

Since this new data looks only at full-time, year-round workers, however, it does not fully capture what happened to women’s wages in 2020. So, we cannot adequately compare this year’s data to that of previous years and cannot fully assess the impact of the massive job losses on the gender pay gap. But make no mistake, women are decidedly not better off now than they were in 2019. And if anything, this tells us that we need to ensure more women have pathways to good jobs, with good pay and good benefits.

Over the past 18 months, many workers, especially women, have struggled because of inadequate paid leave and/or affordable quality child care. This new data notwithstanding, the bottom line is that the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the economic gender divide. As we begin to rebuild from the health and economic crises, it is imperative that we put women at the center of our recovery efforts and seize the moment to correct the inequities that persist in our labor force. Now is the moment to reconfigure our national priorities and build a society where women—and the families who depend on them—get the economic security they rightly deserve.