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Why the Coronavirus Outbreak Could Hit Women Hardest

When COVID-19 first shuttered schools in Washington, DC, and around the country, Fuller Project Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Xanthe Scharff immediately penned an OpEd in TIME noting that the pandemic would quickly become a gender and equity issue, and focusing on the impact of the most vulnerable women workers. The piece forecasted that job losses would be disproportionately shouldered by women and that women with jobs in industries with poor workplace protections would be doubly impacted. With widespread and lengthy school closures looming, a majority of mothers would be forced to miss work, as they are ten times more likely than men to stay home with children. Single working parents, who are four times more likely to be women than men in the United States, would struggle to keep their jobs. The piece also underscored the heightened strain on those without a social support system and how the increase in economic hardships could make women more susceptible to domestic violence. This article drew important attention to the trends which have since defined the “Shecession.” 

After this OpEd, Dr. Scharff and Fuller Project contributor Sarah Ryley followed with rigorous, data-backed reporting based on exclusive statistics from 17 states that showed women were the majority of unemployment seekers. The analysis showed that federal data would not reveal this trend for another month – precious time while trillions of dollars of pandemic aid were being legislated. 

Dr. Scharff and Ryley provided individual and group briefings on the data to dozens of reporters the Wednesday evening before the Jobs Report release. As a result at least 12 news outlets, ranging from The New York Times to Iowa Watch, covered the story and cited the data. This widely published data underpinned a national conversation in April about the stark gender trends in unemployment three weeks ahead of a federal release of data that showed the same trend. Following the data requests, two states, New York and Oregon, began to release weekly unemployment statistics disaggregated by gender. Building on this investigation, Ryley analyzed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May employment report, finding that women lost 11.7 million nonfarm payroll jobs compared to an estimated 9.6 million for men. Dr. Scharff and Susan Smith Richardson co-authored an OpEd in the Boston Globe calling for the U.S. government to address the shortcomings in federal data releases with regards to disaggregated information related to race and gender. Dr. Scharff has briefed over 80 policymakers, journalists and philanthropists on these findings to date.

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