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Community College Role in Reversing Women’s Job Losses

The December jobs report is out, and like previous months’ reports, it isn’t good. You could say that it gives new meaning to the term “pink slip.” Women lost 156,000 jobs in December, while men picked up 16,000 new positions. So overall, the 140,000 total job losses all belong to the ladies.

More than 5.4M women exited the US workforce in 2020. That erases years’ worth of employment gains by women. For a brief period in late 2019, women held slightly more jobs in the US than men did. Now, all those gains have been wiped out. The impact of these job losses will be long-lasting.

Aside from the obvious losses – like income and Social Security credit – women will find it more difficult to re-enter the workforce. They will return to lower wages, fewer promotion opportunities, and a remarkably different post-COVID-19 employment landscape. Employment experts believe it will take women a decade or more to recover from the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic.

Job losses represent opportunity for WCC

For as difficult as this situation is, it also presents an opportunity. Community colleges – like WCC – should be developing strategies to get these disconnected women back into the labor force. As the pandemic fades, women – particularly those who are single parents and persons of color – will need job skills to re-enter the workforce. The object isn’t speed. Instead, it is educating and training women so that they can enter the workforce at the highest possible wages.

It means not recruiting and training women to take positions in low wage occupations. Instead, WCC should guide women into positions that allow them to make enough to take care of their children. Higher wage jobs would also enable women to stabilize their housing and transportation situations, and live with dignity.

This approach would likely create a labor shortage in some low-wage occupations – like childcare, for example. But another person’s need for childcare does not obligate someone else to train and occupy a low-wage job. If a job (like child are) holds that much value, its marketplace wages should reflect that. That they don’t is a reflection on the stubbornness with which middle class wages have defied inflation.

When these women are ready to re-enter the workforce, they’re going to need support. That support may include tuition and financial assistance, help with childcare, solid academic advising, and the will to avoid programs that provide rapid entry into dead-end jobs.

This is the mission of the community college, and WCC should be focusing exclusively on it.

Photo Credit: Amanda Olson , via Flickr