Women's History Month: COVID pandemic taking women out of the workforce

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Monday is International Women's Day, and we are celebrating with a week-long series about the everyday heroes in our lives.

"Our America: Women Forward" features stories about our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends, as they break barriers and persevere through challenges.

COVID-19 has proven to be a most critical struggle, taking an enormous toll on women across our nation. But even before the pandemic, many women were struggling to make ends meet.

According to the National Women's Law Center, in 2019, women were 35% more likely to live in poverty than men. In fact, nearly 14 million women were living in poverty, making less than $13,000 a year.

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Now, two recently unemployed women -- both mothers -- are making some tough choices as they care for their families.

"I loved my job," Leslie Chiaramonte said. "I worked really hard for the position I had, and it didn't matter."

Stephanie Kinley feels her pain.

"Where you fought to get at, you have now fight to try to get back to where we were," she said. "And it's no fault of your own."

They are both out of work because of COVID, as they needed to care for their children learning at home.

"And now our society is defaulting to us," Chiaramonte said. "And now we're the ones out of work to stay home with our children, and we got a raw deal."

Uncertainty has become all too common.

"You don't get an alert and 24 hours to find out what to do," Kinley said. "They text you, 'Come get your child, you have to get them and prepare to stay home for two weeks.'"

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It is a similar for women across America. The US economy lost 140,000 jobs in December, every single one of them held by women. In the same month, men gained 16,000 jobs.

"They are homeschooling, they are doing home nursing, they are taking care of children, elders and sick people," Rutgers economist Yana Rodgers said. "It is work. It's just not counted."

Economists argue the entire economy has been knocked off the tracks because women lost or quit jobs during COVID. And a mom who must quit gets zero unemployment, which is even more money out of the mix.

"Women are being forced to make impossible choices right now," said Mara Bolis, with Oxfam.

Money to care for kids has never been a national priority, even though studies show it actually nearly doubles the return on investment.

"Every dollar invested in early child care care and education sector returns $1.80 in economic activity," Bolis said.

Meantime, women like Kinley are wearing work clothes at home to keep from feeling down and worried about making less in her next job.

"I like to work," she said. "I love my job."

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And even with hope of vaccine distribution, there's no immediate end in sight.

"It's going to be painful," Chiaramonte said.

Speaking of pain, if women don't get back to work fast, it will leave a $50 billion hole in the economy -- in wages, spending, and taxes.

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