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Video: Women and the Pandemic Economy

Vicki Hsieh April 2, 2021
photo - Woman with Baby Working from Home

PPIC’s Speaker Series on California’s Future invites thought leaders and changemakers with diverse perspectives to participate critically, constructively, and collaboratively in public conversations. The purpose is to give Californians a better understanding of how our leaders are addressing the challenges facing our state.

PPIC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it support, endorse, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Any opinions expressed by event participants are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect any position of the Public Policy Institute of California.

As the vaccine rollout picks up, California and the nation are getting closer to post-pandemic life. What does this mean for women, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID’s economic fallout? At a virtual event last week, Queena Kim, senior editor at KQED, talked with a panel of experts about the ongoing struggles women face in balancing work, family, and health—and the steps that can be taken to support working women.

Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramírez of the California Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency started by noting that “women across the country have lost about 5.4 million jobs, a million more than men. Acknowledging this fact and understanding the root cause is a critical first step” to developing holistic solutions for those who have been hardest hit. She shared that in just over a week her agency received 25,000 applications for the state’s rent relief program, “53% coming from women . . . and the vast majority [of these]—almost 80%— are low-income women making below 30%” of the local median income.

Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, chair of the state assembly’s jobs committee, emphasized that policymakers need to learn from the mistakes of the past. “With the Great Recession, we saw an overall drop in household wealth that never fully recovered,” especially in the Central Valley and Inland Empire, and for people of color. “We have to build a range of programs that really support wealth creation and asset formation.” One area of focus for her is a regional training network that partners with business owners and service providers to help those who have been most affected return to work.

High-quality, affordable child care has long been a challenge for working women, and the panelists agreed that all stakeholders need to come together to develop a better approach. Pat Fong Kushida, president and CEO of the California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce, said, “The investment that needs to get made is an investment in structural change. . . . We can’t throw stimulus money just to patch it during this crisis. What can we do structurally, fundamentally, to change the way we currently run [child care] systems?”

Nicole Rice, president of the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, added that expanding opportunities for women and women of color in leadership will be critical to shaping these policies: “As we get more women into these positions of decision making . . . then you will start seeing a shift in how people view some of these conversations that generally just happen around the table when we’re talking to each other.”

The next generation is already paying attention. After her office launched the state’s rent relief fund, Secretary Castro Ramírez received a message from a young woman asking, “I would like to do what you do. How do I do that?” The secretary continued, “As we talk about the workforce and opening up opportunities for women to lead in different fields . . . [we should remember] why it’s important for more of us to be in these positions, because our impact and our influence are being noted.”

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