OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The National Women's Law Center says the percentage of women participating in the labor force is at its lowest since 1988. The pandemic has hit women hard for a variety of reasons.
In Nebraska in 2019, women made up about 40% of the unemployment insurance claims. In 2020, they accounted for more than 50% with men at 41% and eight percent unknown or not provided.
"Women are holding jobs in the industries that are primarily impacted, things like retail, hospitality, which were forced to close for a little bit or had a decline in sales," said Dr. Kelsey Medeiros, an assistant professor of management at UNO.
Medeiros said, "There's no problem with choosing to stay home with kids if that's what someone wants to choose to do and that's a choice one makes. What's problematic is when they're forced to make that choice and leave the labor force."
Heidi Berry is a mother of three in Omaha. She's worked part time in teaching roles for the last few years. She has been working to get back into the classroom full time as her youngest child approaches kindergarten. She had a long-term sub job in 2020 when the pandemic hit.
"When I think back to those days of teaching online and my kids are online, and I'm trying to make sure my 4-year-old doesn't fall down, I don't know what I was supposed to do differently," she said.
She opted not to pursue a full-time position when this school year started. Instead she's been enjoying side teaching gigs. She said she's making about 20% of what she could be. She considers herself fortunate to make this choice. Her husband has a stable job in healthcare. Yet she admitted, "there were no good choices." But she's glad she choose the flexibility.
Berry knows this is temporary.
"I will be back in the classroom someday. I know that day is coming for me, it's just about riding out the storm of uncertainty," she said.
Mederios and researchers worry that the current changing dynamics could have long-term impacts.
"I do worry that if we don't take action now, if we kinda let it go that we will see a reversal of all the progress we've been making for the last few years," Mederios said.
She said business owners, policy makers and community leaders need to make sure the needs of working women are met moving forward. Specifically, she said women of color have been impacted more greatly and their needs should be recognized and addressed and not all women should be lumped together.