The COVID Career Chasm – How deep, how long

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 800,000 women left the workforce as of September 2020, and that number is probably underestimating the women who have home businesses they have put on hold.  It is a dire trend that will reverberate for at least one generation, if not more.

Many of the women affected are professionals in their prime, ages 38-53, spanning Gen-X, which is already hard-hit from the squeeze of more nimble, less encumbered Millennials and baby-boomers who also need to stay in the workforce.  These prime professionals are lawyers, accountants, surgeons, professors, and other high-intensity achievement-oriented women.  Many of them will lose promotions, face reductions in salary, and deal with a drastic diminution of their retirement funds.

As they go, so do the women who help them run their homes and their careers – the childcare workers, household helpers, classroom aides, bus drivers, and numerous others.   Generation X, indeed.

A few rays of hope:  many notable women in the 20th century did not come into their own until after great adversity – founding valuable businesses, nonprofits, and social movements after the age of 40.  These include: Juliette Gordon Low, who founded Girl Scouts of USA at age 57; Jean Nidetch, who founded Weight Watchers at age 41; Ethel Percy Andrus, who founded AARP when she was 74; and Rachel Carson, biologist and author of the landmark book about dangerous pesticides, “Silent Spring”. At age 55, suffering from stage 4 breast cancer, Carson testified before Congress about what she called “biocides” – chemicals that harm humans as well as animals.  She died just 18 months after “Silent Spring” was published, but she is often credited with the launch of the Environmental Protection Agency.

While not many of us can aspire to Rachel Carson’s greatness, perhaps we can be  optimistic about pondering the many miles to go before we sleep, to paraphrase Robert Frost.  Here’s hoping we all get to have many more miles, days, night, weeks, months, and years, to, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “…do the thing you think you cannot do.”  

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