CCSNJ Testimony on the Impact of Covid on Women's Labor Force Participation
M E M O R A N D U M
TO: Members of the Joint Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Assembly Women and Children Committee
FROM: Hilary Chebra, Manager, Government Affairs CCSNJ
RE: Impact of Covid on Women's Labor Force Participation
DATE: June 13, 2022
Good morning, Chairwoman Timberlake, Chairwoman Mosquera and members of the Joint Committee. My name is Hilary Chebra, Manager of Government Affairs with the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
The Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey (CCSNJ) is the region’s largest and most influential business organization representing approximately 1,1000 businesses in the seven most southern counties of New Jersey, as well as greater Philadelphia and northern Delaware. Additionally, the CCSNJ is proud to have been female led for the past 27+ years and is staffed by a team of 10 incredible women from diverse backgrounds. We believe this positions our organization to attract female-led businesses and understand the unique challenges they face, seen clearly by the 100+ women-owned businesses we are proud to call members.
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how we live and work. During the height of the pandemic, all non-essential businesses were forced to close their doors to help stop the spread of the virus. These mandated closures, although necessary at the time, have proven to have a disproportionate impact on women in the labor force. According to an April report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce entitled Data Deep Dive: A Decline of Women in the Workforce, one million women are missing from the labor force compared to pre-pandemic. Additionally, a recent report by the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, note that female unemployment, which was at its highest at 18.4 percent in April 2020, outpaced men through the end of 2021. This is especially true for women of color, with a 2020 unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent for Black women and 14 percent unemployment rate for Hispanic women, while the unemployment for White women was 10 percent.
There are a number of reasons as to why this was, but the most prominent is that women were simply more vulnerable to layoffs during the pandemic given the industry in which they work. Women are more likely to work in leisure and hospitality, as well as education and health services, than their male counterparts—and are 10 percent more likely than men to work in lower-paying roles (see attachment one).
Specifically in South Jersey, given the dominance of the region’s top industries - healthcare, tourism and hospitality - the decline of women in the workforce was dramatic. According to an economic forecast conducted by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the Stockton University School of Business, employment in these spaces has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. National employment data also shows that women lost or left more than 1.5 million net healthcare jobs in April 2020 alone, which undoubtedly impacted the South Jersey region hard given how many healthcare institutions we have in the seven most southern counties.
Another reason women left the workforce was extreme burnout. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that 1 in 4 women considered leaving or changing careers due to burnout in 2020, with that number increasing to 1 in 3 women in 2021. A key reason for this is because women dominate the jobs that were essential during the pandemic like nurses and teachers.
The access to, and affordability of childcare, has been correctly cited as a major factor for women’s ability to return to the workforce, as well. Early in the pandemic, the state ordered New Jersey childcare centers to be closed, except to care for the children of essential workers. Additionally, many parents lost family support as older family members who previously helped with childcare quarantined.
But even as childcare providers began to reopen in June of 2020, group sizes were severely limited, and the cost of childcare remained a barrier. After schools returned to in-person instruction, 23 percent of families experienced frequent childcare disruptions in the last six months of 2021 primarily due to in-school COVID exposures. These disruptions have forced families to make difficult decisions on how to juggle work and childcare with women than men making the decision to leave the workforce all together.
Additionally, the childcare community has also not been immune to the labor shortage affecting the nation. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, childcare employment plummeted by more than 30 percent at the height of the pandemic and is still 7 percent lower today. The lack of willing childcare workers has put an incredible strain on these facilities forcing them to limit class sizes and hours of operation, both of which impact a mother’s ability to return to normal and consistent employment.
The CCSNJ is proud to see that the New Jersey Legislature is not sitting idly by as women struggle with these issues, but instead are moving legislation that can improve both affordability and access to childcare in the Garden State. On June 9, the CCSNJ strongly supported a package of childcare-related bills in the Assembly Women and Children Committee. The assistance and resources outlined in those bills will help provide families access to childcare so mothers can return to the workforce, as well as help providers allow more availability to care.
In April of last year, the CCSNJ released the Preparing for the Next Normal Report, which contained a series of policy recommendations to successfully reopen the economy as we moved away from the height of the pandemic. Among the recommendations were suggestions specifically geared towards assisting women in their return to the workforce.
One such recommendation was creating state subsidies for employer-based childcare facilities. During the course of several virtual meetings with CCSNJ members, it was determined that some companies would be open to creating childcare spaces within their offices to help employees with ease and cost of childcare. The recommendation suggests that an assistance program be made available to the employer community to help offset the costs of creating on-site childcare, as well as assuring such facilities have meet the appropriate New Jersey standards for childcare facilities.
COVID-19, while not eradicated, has become more manageable and there are several reasons to be optimistic. In the past year, the CCSNJ has seen increase of the creation of new small businesses and nonprofits, started by women who left the traditional workforce to pursue a passion project that also allowed for increased flexibility. We often field requests from newly created women-owned businesses on how to get state and federal certifications, and how to register for both public and private sector procurement opportunities. These are positive trends that the CCSNJ feels confident will continue as more people become comfortable living with COVID-19.
The CCSNJ is hopeful to continue to see the trends of women finding their way back to the workforce through innovative endeavors and the efforts to expand childcare. We stand ready to assist the Legislature in helping to formulate policies that increase women’s participation in the labor force and increase access to childcare. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.