The recent destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy could have a greater impact than many anticipated. The damage is expected to total over $60 billion, but as with other devastating hurricanes such as Katrina or Irene, an often overlooked issue is the state of low income individuals (most of whom are women) after the storm hits.
Using Hurricane Katrina as a case study, research indicates that post-Katrina, women’s employment fell and the wage gap widened. Tulane University’s Newcomb College Center for Research on Women published a report in December 2008 evaluating U.S. Census Bureau data from the two years following Katrina. The data showed women’s labor force participation dropped by 6.6% post-Katrina (compared to a 3.8% drop for men).
Women of color were especially impacted with the report noting, “The median earnings of White, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino men increased. In contrast, only the average earnings of White women showed a slight increase; the median earnings of Black/ African American women and Hispanic/Latinas fell.”
The study states that traditional barriers to women’s employment such as lack of schools, childcare facilities, housing and public transportation are exacerbated during the aftermath of a natural disaster causing the drop in wage and employment.
Sandy doesn’t compare to Katrina in terms of damage inflicted, however the economic impact has the potential to be similar. “20 percent of the women in New York are living below the federal poverty level, and 11 percent of the women in New Jersey are in poverty.”
The statistics point to the women victims of Sandy being just as vulnerable to economic decline as those affected by Katrina. For those who are already disadvantaged, a disaster conducive to the destruction of property and resources is enough to push them further into poverty. This is especially relevant for the women trying to close the pay gap or even attain employment.