At a rally Tuesday, President Trump made his closing argument to the suburban women unpersuaded by his dog whistles and kidnapped migrant children: Hey, at least I’m helping your hubbies find jobs.
“And you know what else? I’m also getting your husbands — they want to get back to work, right?” he said. “They want to get back to work. We’re getting your husbands back to work, and everybody wants it.”
There are a couple of ways to interpret these tone-deaf remarks.
One is that Trump is sexist and still believes that “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing” and only men are expected to bring home the bacon. Perhaps. Trump’s defenders would remind us, though, of the women he has appointed to senior-level positions (Kellyanne Conway, etc.). Heck, the president’s daughter Ivanka even wrote a book called “Women Who Work.” So surely her dad is aware such ladies exist.
There’s another, slightly less chauvinist reading of Trump’s remarks, albeit one equally damning. It’s that Trump knows 21st-century women expect to hold down jobs and provide for their families; he also knows he has utterly failed to help them do so. In highlighting the (relatively) higher numbers of men finding jobs, the president tacitly admits he has altogether abandoned working women.
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In the past few months, employment among women has plummeted, with about 6 million fewer women working today than in February. Men have also lost a lot of jobs, but they’ve recovered more ground than women have. The number of men working is down, on net, by “only” 5.2 million.
Women have also dropped out of the labor force in droves — that is, they are neither working nor even looking for jobs. The trends are especially stark among “prime working age” women, those 25 to 54 years old. Since February, nearly twice as many prime-working-age women as men have exited the labor force (1.7 million vs. about 926,000, respectively).
Why have women fared worse? Partly because of the industries more likely to employ women, such as retail, leisure and hospitality, and health care. These have all been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced shopping and dining outside the home and routine medical visits.
But the problem isn’t limited to women’s career choices (or options). Schools remain closed for in-person learning throughout much of the country, and child-care facilities are operating at reduced capacity if they’re open at all. Doting grandparents who might normally pinch-hit on child care are less available because they’re at higher risk for covid-19.
Whatever fragile work-life balance American families had going before the coronavirus has collapsed — with women disproportionately bearing the fallout.
As of this summer, 1 in 5 working-age parents said the reason they weren’t employed was that covid-19 had disrupted their child-care arrangements, according to a Census Bureau report. Among those