The COVID-19 job market is leaving Millennial women behind

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In March, a 35-year-old who I’ll call Janet was in final round interviews with Google when she says the recruiter told her the position was no longer a priority. Google’s not the only one. Janet has made it to multiple final rounds only to be told the job is no longer available. She’s done what many others are now doing, lowering her sights and applying to jobs that she’s overqualified for. Still nothing.

There is one requirement that she won’t budge on, though, and that’s maternity leave. The mother to a 17-month-old baby boy and with another baby on the way in about eight months, Janet can’t live without that. She’s even hiding the fact that she is pregnant in virtual interviews for fear employers will not hire an expecting mother amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

“It’s causing me to doubt whether it’s worth going back [to work] at all,” she said. “There’s COVID-19 uncertainty holding you back or your toddler who is begging for attention.”

Hiring is down everywhere, but Millennial women are getting disproportionately hit, according to an analysis of LinkedIn data. While Millennial men are taking over a larger share of the remaining jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, the share for Millennial women has been shrinking. Millennial women are also applying to jobs less during this COVID period than their male counterparts. Last week, I asked women in this cohort to tell me their stories and heard from dozens like Janet who, on the condition of anonymity to not hurt their job seeking, talked through the pain of job seeking amid a pandemic.

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Experts say this could be because Millennial women — many who are now at the age where they have young children —  are assuming more family responsibilities during this crisis. And while the pandemic will eventually come to an end, the fear is that women’s careers could suffer long term.

“Many women were struggling with childcare responsibilities pre-COVID-19 and now they are going to face additional barriers,” said President & CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy  “There is a double burden for women during COVID-19. They are expected to be full-time caregivers and work full-time as well.”

Prior to the coronavirus, women took on a majority of responsibilities around the home. While there was hope among experts that the pandemic would lead to same-sex working couples sharing the burden more equitably, early polling shows that isn’t the case. With schools shut down nationwide, only 3% of women said their male partner is doing a majority of homeschooling, according to a recent poll by Morning Consult for The New York Times.

“Millennials are likely the ones that are going to be most affected by the pandemic as they are the ones who are likely to have younger kids,” said Economic Policy Institute Senior Economist Elise Gould. “There is a lot of uncertainty right now. Not all schools have closed for the year, but  if you don’t know, it is hard to know if you are available [to work].”

Of course, all working parents are impacted by nationwide school closures. A lack of childcare help was part of the reason why 43-year-old Alison moved from Los Angeles, Calif. to Ashburn, Va, right when the pandemic began.

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A single mother to a four-year-old boy, Alison drove cross country to be closer to her aging mother who also helps look after her son. While she has been searching for a full-time position since the fall of 2019, the pandemic has led to a massive decrease in open roles that she is qualified for.

And with no clarity about when childcare centers and schools will open again, she is considering stopping her job hunt entirely.

“The problem with being a working parent and trying to get a job is that there are so many logistics that have to work for you, it’s almost easier to just not,”  she said.

While Janet looks for a job, her husband is working full-time. Even though his work day doesn’t start until around 9 a.m., childcare responsibilities during his off hours tend to fall on her as well because, as she put it, “I am the mom.” And while being a stay-at-home parent was never something she considered, she is now fearful that it could become her reality amid the pandemic.

“I feel like it’s the perfect storm,” she said. “Being a woman who is pregnant and also just had a baby, I am going to have this gaping hole on my resume that I am not going to be able to talk myself out of.”

Economists worry about the long-term impact of this recession on female job seekers as well. While Gould is optimistic that policymakers will come up with solutions to curb any persistent pain in the workforce, she notes that past recessions have proven that women often feel the brunt of the shock.

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“The labor market will open up and everyone will be rushing to find jobs,” she said. “I am concerned that employers will exercise the amount of discretion that they had in the last recession, which means women and black and brown workers will be last to be hired.”

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