The combination of job loss as well as withdrawing retirement savings means young women may never recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a panel.
Speaking at the Women in Super (WIS) National Roadshow, Kara Keys, WIS national chair, said the impact the COVID-19 pandemic early release had on young women was stark.
“A lot of young women have withdrawn all of their retirement savings and the modelling shows they will never recover what they withdrew,” Keys said.
“That is quite scary, to be honest. The fact the Government pulled that policy where people were having to fund their own pandemic response by allowing people to withdraw their retirement savings in my view was quite irresponsible.
“We now have a large group of young women in this country who will never be able to recover the superannuation they withdrew.”
Professor Elizabeth Hill, department of political economy, faculty of arts and social sciences at the University of Sydney, said losing hours or withdrawing from the labour market compounded the issue, which was still an issue for women regardless of the pandemic.
“We know because of our super retirement system being a mirror image of labour market participation that they’re taking a hit,” Hill said.
“We also know that emergency access that was provided to superannuation accounts [was taken up by] more women than men.
“That’s also going to track through because of the multiplier impact of our retirement savings system.”
Hill said the COVID-19 pandemic was the first economic crisis we had ever had in which women lost more jobs than men.
“It’s these three factors, the unique nature of the crisis, the structure of our economy and the feminisation of our labour markets that have all come together and left women much more exposed than ever before the current COVID crisis,” Hill said.
Professor Rae Cooper, from the women, work and leadership research group at the University of Sydney Business School, said the reason women were more likely to face job losses during the pandemic was because of their line of work.
“The areas affected most quickly are also the areas where we have very high rates of capitalisation and lack of permanency in employment,” Cooper said.
“Those jobs were the first to go and those jobs were held by women, so all of that is just reflecting those strong gendered labour force segregations that pre-existed.”
Hill said while women had been more likely than men to lose jobs and hours during the crisis, the majority of JobKeeper recipients in 2020 were men.
“We see the same gendered pattern occurring in the uptake of the 2021 disaster payment for workers,” Hill said.
“There was a structural feature in the JobKeeper design where only workers that had worked for 12 months or longer were able to access that and a lot of women dominate the short term and casual labour market, and were ineligible.”
Cooper said women had done more unpaid labour at home, particularly if children were learning from home, which affected their ability to find work.
“Women are really suffering in terms of health and well-being at the moment… alcohol consumption has increased faster than men’s and that’s linked to care responsibilities,” Cooper said.
“One-in-10 women have been experiencing domestic violence during the period of the pandemic and one in three have experienced abusive behaviour from an intimate partner at home.
“A lot of women have been stuck in quite dangerous situations during the period of lockdown and that’s been almost for two years.”