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In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has upended our daily lives, sent our economy into freefall and claimed thousands of lives. It also has brought long-running economic and social disparities into stark relief and exposed the urgent need to address priorities — from paid family leave to gender pay equity — that will safeguard our health and bolster our economy.


While the coronavirus may not discriminate, its impact has not been felt evenly, with women, people of color and low-income families bearing the brunt of this crisis. Women make up the majority of family caregivers, health care workers and service-sector employees — putting them on the front lines of this pandemic and its economic fallout.


The Women’s Foundation is committed to using data and research to inform evidence-based approaches and bipartisan solutions that will yield meaningful results for women, families and businesses across the region.


Last week, the Women’s Foundation released an interactive dashboard that tells the story of why women are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis through state-specific data from Kansas and Missouri.


Women make up 78% of the health care workforce in these two states, higher than the national average. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who are putting their lives at risk to combat COVID-19 are far more likely to contract it in the process.


Our data show that women represent 58% of service-sector workers in Missouri and 59% in Kansas — meaning they are disproportionately affected by layoffs and furloughs in those industries.


After a period in which women-owned businesses were the fastest growing segment of the American economy, COVID-19 has brought main street to the brink. There are more than 360,000 women-owned businesses in Missouri and Kansas, and right now nearly every one of them is struggling to stay afloat. This is especially concerning for women of color, who accounted for 89% of the net new women-owned businesses opened per day from 2018 to 2019, according to the 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report.


The challenges women are facing in this economy are even more acute given that they were not being paid fairly even before COVID-19. Women are paid less than 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, which means they are even more vulnerable to economic shocks and downturns.


Policies like paid family leave, pay equity and greater flexibility for entrepreneurs and small businesses can help lead our country out of this crisis.


Paid family and medical leave for all workers must no longer be optional. These policies not only make workers more productive and businesses more profitable, they also ensure people can take care of an illness or elderly family member without losing their income.


Equal pay for equal work would inject billions into our economy, and ensure women are no longer short-changed for the vital and in some cases life-saving work they do.


Women are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, but they also can lead an economic recovery that is sustainable and equitable and strengthens workers, businesses and families alike.


As we work to navigate through this national crisis, policymakers should seize this opportunity to break down longstanding barriers that have made it harder for women to reach their economic potential and hindered our economic growth.


Together, through smart, data-driven policy solutions, we can build a recovery that will last — with women leading the way.


Wendy Doyle is the president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, which is based in Kansas City, Mo.