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COVID-19 has sent economies around the world into freefall, but the pain isn’t being shared equally. New findings confirm what many suspected, low paid workers are suffering the most. Personal and household services are businesses most likely to have been forced to close without being deemed as “essential services.” These industries employ a disproportionately large segment of women, meaning women are experiencing the most severe impacts of the pandemic.

Contrast this with business services, which have almost seamlessly been able to transition to remote work arrangements, and it is clear that the pandemic has exacerbated workforce polarisation. Data from the Australian Taxation Office shows that by 20 April 240,000 hospitality workers lost their jobs and a further 47,000 workers from recreation and arts industries were unemployed. In addition to the impacts on women, an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey is showing higher unemployment rates for those under 30 or over 70, hitting both ends of the workforce hardest.

The trend is even bleaker in the United States. The 22.8 million jobs generated after the Global Financial Crisis have been obliterated. Lower paid and lower skilled jobs that have been at risk of outsourcing and automation are also in the services sector at the crux of the current economic strain. Even in the lowest paid industries, it is the lowest paid jobs that are most at risk. Unlike the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs in Australia, the stimulus payments in the United States do not deliver prolonged support to workers to get through the crisis.

Without specific measures to change the balance, the current inequality driven by the pandemic is expected to only get worse.