While women have always been statistically less likely to take control of their finances or increase their financial literacy, pandemic impacts have certainly compounded the problem.

Single women and women of color, in particular, have faced unemployment setbacks since the beginning of lockdown and stay-at-home orders in the spring of 2020.


As communities shut down last spring to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, women felt the financial shock immediately. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that women accounted for 55% of job losses in April 2020. Later that year, BLS issued a report confirming that the recession had a more significant impact on women.

More than a year later, women continue to leave the workforce due to limitations created by the pandemic. In December 2020, women accounted for 86.3 percent of all job losses.

Some news outlets have observed that the total job loss for women has undone some of the significant workforce gains made since the 1970s and 80s. One Fortune reporter wrote in February 2021 that:

“Working women have now lost more than three decades of labor force gains in less than a year.”

In addition, women of color have experienced an even sharper employment decline, according to BLS statistics:

  • Unemployment rate for men: 13%
  • Unemployment rate for all women: 15.5% (up from 3% in February 2021)
  • Unemployment rate for black women: 16.4%
  • Unemployment rate for Hispanic women: 20.2%

Across demographics, women continue to face workforce challenges that could place them at a disadvantage.


The effects of this historic job loss will follow many women over time. While many will return to the workforce, a significant percentage will accept lower-paying or part-time positions and struggle to regain their previous income or employment levels.

As reported in this piece by GMA:

“When women do leave the workforce, whether because they lose their jobs or take time out for personal or family reasons such as childcare, they return to a trajectory of decreased pay over the course of their careers.”

As of June last year, 52% of women had already experienced these changes to their employment:

  • Reduced work hours (24%)
  • Layoffs (16%)
  • Reduced salary (13%)
  • Furloughs (13%)
  • Early retirement (13%)

Those shifts could result in smaller retirement funds for women over the course of their careers as they place short-term spending priorities over long-term financial planning.

Single women also lose Social Security and other savings opportunities without a partner’s income to rely on. Unpartnered women also feel a more desperate need to find a job, regardless of pay, hours or benefits, so could return to work at a disadvantage.

In addition, workforce changes for women affect the overall economy in addition to individuals and families.


For women who want to improve their employment status and financial position, here are a few places to begin:

  • Get the salary you deserve. Seek out some of the inexpensive online resources to update your skills, such as LinkedIn Learning,  Coursera or Udemy. Then improve your salary negotiation skills {link to blog on salary negotiation}.
  • Understand your finances. Now is not the time to bury your head in the sand – ignoring financial realities always makes them worse. You cannot make a good decision on salary requirements without understanding your income needs. Start with a realistic budget using a free Excel template or an app like YNAB.
  • Know your options. While not recommended, if you absolutely need to take a distribution from a 401(k) or other retirement account, understand your options and the associated responsibilities. Working with a financial advisor can help you gain a better understanding of this process.
  • Plan for retirement. As mentioned before, short-term needs have taken priority for many women this past year, but don’t ignore your long-term goals. In some cases, a current favorable retirement savings outlook could mean you have time to breathe and hold out for a better job.
  • Outsource personal responsibilities. If you provide care to a parent or other relative, finding caregiving help could free up some of your time and allow you to return to work.
  • Manage debt. Ask lenders for a restructure or reprieve. In addition, a daily money manager can help you with both budgeting and setting up a debt repayment schedule.

When you take control of your financial education, you feel more empowered to set realistic savings and retirement goals.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.


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Liz Windisch, CFP® of Aspen Wealth Management has been guiding women towards mastering their finances since 2004.

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