“Friday, May 1, marks International Workers’ Day, a special day promoted by the international labor movement to honor workers and working classes around the globe. In 2020, International Workers’ Day comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created immense losses in health and well-being for individuals, households, and societies around the globe,” says Economist Yana Rodgers, Professor in the Departments of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Labor Studies and Employment Relations and Faculty Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers.
A regular consultant for the World Bank, the United Nations, and the Asian Development Bank, and former president of the International Association for Feminist Economics, Rodgers specializes in using quantitative methods and large data sets to conduct research on women's health, labor market status, and well-being.
Looking at the status of working women after 100 years of women voting, Rodgers writes:
Friday, May 1, marks International Workers’ Day, a special day promoted by the international labor movement to honor workers and working classes around the globe. In 2020, International Workers’ Day comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created immense losses in health and well-being for individuals, households, and societies around the globe. Of particular concern is the overrepresentation of women among low-wage workers on the frontline, including nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides. Women also stand to face the starkest employment losses, as retail, food service, and hospitality are among the industries hardest hit and women are disproportionately represented in these sectors. Women are also performing more unpaid care work as school and childcare closures have kept children at home. More generally, evidence has emerged that low-income and precariously employed workers and their families are bearing relatively more of the costs of the stay-at-home orders across countries.
A key policy response is to expand paid sick leave and family leave benefits. In the U.S., the second federal COVID-19 relief package passed March 18 includes—for the first time—paid family and medical leave during this crisis to care for a sick or at-risk family member or oneself. This emergency paid leave policy applies to employees who need to care for children whose schools or daycare facilities closed. This legislation helps to meet the needs of some workers who are balancing care responsibilities, but almost half of the U.S. private sector workforce is not eligible. As my research has shown, paid leave policies have positive impacts on women’s employment and attachment to the labor market. Other OECD countries are well ahead of the U.S. in terms of paid leave benefits. Only a handful of U.S. states, including New Jersey, have paid sick leave and family leave policies on the books. Moving forward, we need national policies on paid leave to promote the advancement of women workers in the labor market to levels virtually unimaginable 101 years ago when they could not even vote.
Forward through the Darkness, Forward into Light.
The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the largest expansion of democracy in U.S. history. While adding millions to the voting roles, the struggle to include African Americans and other marginalized communities continues. This article is part of a centennial series of reflections by Rutgers scholars on the impact of women’s right to vote.