Lt. Gov. Gray marks International Women’s Day with focus on pandemic

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International Women’s Day recognizes the achievements of women – socially, culturally, and politically. 

Vermont’s Lt. Governor Molly Gray — the fourth woman in Vermont’s history to serve the state’s second highest office — used it as an opportunity to talk about the impact of the pandemic on women.

“Today felt really important to also recognize so much of what we have to do here in the state to close the gap for women,” said Gray.

In the month of November, 73 percent of unemployment claims were filed by women in Vermont. 

“That is the highest percentage of filings by women in any state in the nation,” said Gray.

Gray was joined by more than 130 community leaders and four panelists, including Cary Brown, Executive Director of Vermont Commission on Women.

Brown says the pandemic is not causing a typical economic recession.

“We would see jobs that are more often held by men, such as construction and manufacturing. Those are the ones that are traditionally hurt. But in this pandemic, its the jobs that women have that are being lost,” said Brown.

Taking an especially hard hit during the crisis, Brown says, are retail, food service, and direct public serving jobs.

“The pandemic really made that just so much worse with childcare being closed, with schools being closed. Mothers reducing their working time by 50 percent more than fathers did, when the pandemic hit, so it’s not something that hit parents equally by a long shot,” said Brown.

Cary Brown adds, the pandemic has reduced women’s working hours by nearly 4 to 5 times as much as men, resulting in other hardships, namely food insecurity.  

“So, before Covid-19, one in 10 Vermonters were experiencing food insecurity. Now it’s one in three Vermonters, 33% of Vermonters are experiencing food insecurity,” said Brown.

Xusana Davis, Vermont’s Racial Equity Director discussed the wage gap for women and women of color. 

“Women across the board are working into 2021 to catch up to what a man has made in calendar year 2020. So for example, equal pay day for all women in America is March 24,” said Davis.

Meaning, women have to work three to four more months to make as much as their male counterparts. But Davis points out, this is not the case for all women.

“Equal Pay for Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans is March 9. Equal Pay Day for Black women in America is August 3. Equal Pay Day for Indigenous women in America is September 8. And finally, Equal Pay Day for Latina women in America is October 21,” said Davis.

Davis explained, she would have to work until the end of October to earn the same amount as her male colleague, even if they started working the same day.

Davis also discussed how the wage gap exacerbates the housing crisis.

“Of course that also translates into housing availability and housing affordability. Because after all, how can you get a home loan when your credit history and your income history has been scarred by being underrepresented and underpaid in the workforce,” said Davis.

Another panelist was Jessica Nordhaus, Director of Change the Story VT. Her organization teamed up with UMass Amherst to conduct a survey of more than 500 Vermonters to discuss the gendered impacts of COVID-19. That data will be available in the next few weeks.

The fourth panelist was Meg Smith, Director of Vermont Women’s Fund who says the state needs to prioritize childcare services to make them more affordable and available for working families.

Gray’s Seat at the Table event comes as the country passed a 1.9 trillion Covid-relief package set to help working families and provide more funding across the board. 

“We have a moment to think really strategically, not only about how how we get money out the door with this next amount of funding but also how do we recover stronger,” said Gray.

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