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As COVID-19 spreads across the countrywomen and their families are particularly vulnerable to its devastating health and economic impacts. This is because women predominate in frontline jobs – such as health care, child care and home care workers, or grocery store cashiers – that are essential during this crisis and cannot be done remotely. Women are also overrepresented in some of the sectors (such as service, hospitality and restaurant) in which significant numbers of jobs have already been lost. Women of color, especially younger women of color, are facing historically high levels of unemployment.

These women were already only a paycheck away from economic disaster. Women who have lost their jobs or hours of work must still feed their families, pay the rent, and keep up with their bills. As families struggle to stay afloat, the ripple effects are felt in their communities, and in the economy writ large. We are in the first stages of an economic recession. Unemployment rates are expected to remain high through the end of 2021, and the path to recovery out of the current recession is unclear. 

As a nation, we have weathered storms like this before. But the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2009 showed us that without structural change, those who were most harmed by the economic contraction will also be left out of the recovery. Thus, the only way back to sustainable and broadly shared prosperity is by centering the needs of women, especially women of color. Literally, women will lead the way forward to an economy that works for all of us, and not just the privileged few.  

Congress has taken swift action to respond to the COVID-19 crisis with the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ActBut in addition to meeting immediate needs, Congress must ensure an equitable recovery from the impending recession. We must position working people – and the families who depend on them – to rebound by addressing the systemic inequality that made them so vulnerable to begin with. We can’t afford not to. 

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