Survey STOCK

CHEYENNE – The social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit Wyoming women especially hard.

Those are the findings of a recent survey conducted by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center, which partnered with the Wyoming Community Foundation and the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. The survey was designed to better quantify how the loss of income and child care options created by the pandemic has burdened women, in particular.

“We had been hearing a lot of anecdotal reports that women were experiencing significant challenges due to COVID-19, and we really wanted to see some data to show,” said Rebekah Smith, director of Wyoming Women’s Foundation, a nonprofit that helps women achieve economic self-sufficiency.

According to the randomly selected survey respondents – one-third of whom were women with children in their household, and one-fifth of whom were single mothers – 17% worried their food would run out before they could afford to buy more, more often than prior to the pandemic.

According to the organization’s 2020 self-sufficiency tracker, which calculates how much money a person would need to meet their basic needs, a single mother with one preschool aged child living in Laramie County would need to earn $38,856 per year.

A 2016 report by the organization showed that nearly three out of five, or 58%, of single mothers lacked adequate income to support their households. That number was even higher for non-white single mothers in Wyoming, 76% of whom lacked adequate income to support their households.

The survey suggests that those longstanding divides have sharpened after the pandemic shut in-person schooling and day care centers, requiring many women to make tough and sudden decisions about work.

“Job loss and school closures are going to affect all parents, but we’ve found that a lot of time child care responsibilities will fall to the mother for various reasons,” Smith said. “If it’s a single mother, then of course it falls to her – and she’s also the lone breadwinner – so that creates an incredibly challenging situation.”

“If it’s a situation (in a two-parent household) where one of the parents needs to give up work, with what we know about the gender wage gap in Wyoming, then most likely the woman is making less money. So it will usually be the mother who will be most likely to give up her job,” said Smith.

In Wyoming, women earn approximately 71 cents for every dollar a man earns.

After the pandemic began, 30% of single mothers worried about job loss because of child care, whereas 14% of women in a two-adult household felt the same, according to the survey.

Thirty-five percent of single mothers reported that they didn’t always have a safe place to leave their children while they went to work or school; 21% of women in a two-adult households shared that worry.

The pandemic’s disruption to daily life hit the women surveyed the hardest.

Seventy-four percent of single mothers reported that school and day care closures had a “moderate or severe” impact on daily life, whereas 67% of women living in two-parent households did.

The survey also revealed another trend: large percentages of women don’t know how to access resources that could help them find food, financial support and mental health resources.

“That wasn’t necessarily exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Smith. “But what has been exacerbated is the need.”

Wyoming 211 is a nonprofit organization that helps connect people in need with resources, and Smith encourages anyone in need to reach out.

For women, especially, Smith expects the legacy of the pandemic to be felt well into the future.

“The job losses during the pandemic have been really significant for women, and, of course, that’s not something anyone recovers from quickly,” Smith said.

“Pairing that with the greater economic problems in Wyoming right now, I think there’s going to be a few years where women are going to have to dig deep to find new jobs and occupations.”

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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