Thursday’s unemployment figures confirmed that women have borne the brunt of this recession – a fact the government has failed to address.
Women’s working hours fell by 7.3 per cent between March and June, while men’s fell by 6.5 per cent.
And although men suffered a depressing 3.8 per cent drop in full-time employment between February and June, women suffered a larger drop of 5.2 per cent.
They lost more hours and jobs as they are overrepresented in the industries hardest hit by the virus, such as retail and hospitality, and in casual, insecure work.
In response, the government stimulated male-dominated industries such as construction and forced many women to leave the workforce by ending free child care.
“The government has used its old toolkit, which is a male toolkit, and it hasn’t focused on female jobs,” said Angela Jackson, an economist at Equity Economics.
Among other things, Ms Jackson told The New Daily the government should immediately announce more funding for the aged-care sector to boost female employment.
“We know the Royal Commission is going to recommend additional funding to increase quality of care, which is going to mean more jobs,” Ms Jackson said, noting the industry typically hires more women.
“And I think funding that increase today, rather than waiting 18 months, would generate new jobs that are needed in the industry, as we need to be providing quality aged care, and it would also support female employment.”
Ms Jackson said the government should also look at structural issues related to parental leave, and tackle the assumption that women are the primary caregivers in society.
“We have a system that is set up for [one and a half incomes per household] – that’s what’s incentivised – so that doesn’t allow families, even if they wanted to, to make a change. It makes it really hard,” she told The New Daily.
“Getting women to work and to participate will mean we have a more diverse, higher-productivity workforce than we do today.”
A handful of positive developments could be found in Thursday’s figures, however.
There was a record monthly increase in employment, with businesses hiring 210,800 people as restrictions eased in June.
And underemployment, which refers to the number of people who have a job but can’t get enough hours, fell by 1.4 per cent.
But we’re still a long way from normal.
Almost one in five workers (19.1 per cent) are either unemployed or in need of more hours – and the rise in employment was driven by the return of part-time jobs (+249,000), rather than secure full-time jobs, which fell by another 38,100 over the month.
The data comes after the government ended its free child care policy on Monday.
Economists and childcare advocates told The New Daily the return to fee-paying child care would force many women to stay at home and work fewer shifts – delivering another major blow to incomes that have already taken a battering during the pandemic.
Emma Dawson, executive director of public policy think tank Per Capita, said it was far from the only move to have disproportionately affected women.
Far too many low-paid women in insecure work have been excluded from JobKeeper due to the government’s eligibility criteria,” Ms Dawson said.
“Two of the industries hardest hit by our economic lockdown – Accommodation and Food Services, and Retail Trade – have by far the highest number of casual employees with less than 12 months’ service for their current employer, most of whom are women.”
This means more than 200,000 female workers in those sectors alone have missed out on JobKeeper, she said.
And to make matter worse, people in receipt of the carer allowance, or the disability support payment, were also excluded from the Coronavirus Supplement payment, which temporarily doubled the unemployment benefit JobSeeker.
This has implications for gender equality, Ms Dawson said, as in Australia “almost twice as many women (540,000) as men (230,000) are the primary carers for friends or family members with disabilities or physical and mental illness”.
The gendered exclusions partly explain why women have taken more money out of their superannuation during the pandemic than men, according to some datasets.
Ms Dawson said government should invest more money in public housing to address the economic imbalance, “as older women, in particular, are disproportionately caught in a poverty trap due to more of them relying on the age pension and being trapped in the private rental market”.
Among other things, she also called for more public-sector job creation in health and social services, and free child care for “families earning at or under the median household income”.
Meanwhile, Diversity Council CEO Lisa Annese said it was crucial for women to play a greater role in policy decisions.
“Having more women at the table when decisions are made by government will help ensure that the impacts on women are recognised and responded to,” she told The New Daily.
“What’s more, this pandemic has really shown that we must more highly value traditionally female-dominated roles by providing better pay and conditions.
“Employers also need to play their part to ensure women’s talent and contributions are not lost.”