More than 6000 fewer women were employed in the Illawarra in April compared to the previous month, with the latest data showing a stark difference in how the pandemic has hit the region's unemployment figures for men and women.
Between March and April, the number of men with jobs grew by about 200, while the number of women employed dropped by nearly 9 per cent - a greater drop than the state average.
The female unemployment rate for the Illawarra is now 8.6 per cent (NSW: 5.8 per cent), while the male unemployment rate is 4.3 per cent (NSW: 6.1 per cent), the Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data shows.
Overall, perhaps surprisingly, the region's unemployment rate is lower than it was at the start of this year (8.4 per cent in January, 6.3 per cent in April), and has trended down since the beginning of the pandemic - but it's a different story for women.
University of Wollongong employment relations lecturer Dr Betty Frino said the April jobs figures alone were unreliable due to small sample sizes and short term variations, but said the trend over the past few months supported the message that the pandemic had been worse for women than men in terms of unemployment.
She said the January to April unemployment rate for all people was 7.1% , and was 5.9% for men and 8.4% for women. In the prior four months, from September to December, the unemployment rate for all people was 6.2%, and was 7.1% for men and 5% for women.
Dr Frino said there were a number of reasons why women were losing jobs at a greater rate, and why this was particularly prevalent in the Illawarra.
"The jobs lost in COVID-19 period are largely by those in temporary work - casuals, fixed-term and contractors known as precarious workers - and the industries and sectors most affected by COVID-19 are retail and hospitality," she said.
"Women, minorities and migrant workers are much more likely to fill these kinds of jobs. Women are almost twice as likely to fill those jobs as men, and in a region like the Illawarra even more so."
She highlighted that the Illawarra had a high proportion of businesses in industries that employ temporary workers, and therefore women, including retail, health care, education and social assistance (aged-care, disability sector).
The latest data also shows a drop in workforce participation for Illawarra women, which Dr Frino said was being repeated across the country, and was likely due to the traditional expectations that women will take a greater role in caring for children or elderly parents.
Wollongong MP Paul Scully said the fact that women had borne the brunt of unemployment in the Illawarra would need to be considered during the region's post-COVID recovery.
"Future job generation efforts in Wollongong will need to be mindful of this and address the labour market inequality," he said. "It also shows a purely infrastructure led stimulus plan may not be best plan for long term."
Mr Scully said he hoped to see a turn around in women's jobs figures as retail and hospitality businesses were allowed to reopen.
"The downturn in hospitality and retail have had an effect on women's employment," he said.
"I think this will be helped by relaxation of restrictions - when pubs, clubs open and more people are travelling, you would hope that some of these people can come back into the labour force."
He said an infrastructure boost, which would bring construction and supply chain jobs, would be good for the short term in Wollongong, but that the city needed to look at addressing the inequity and employment risk creating job uncertainty for women over the long term.
Mr Scully has recently called on the government to create jobs by setting up Wollongong as a public sector employment hub, which would allow more workers to stay in the region instead of commuting to Sydney and spend their money at retail and hospitality businesses in the region.