Blog

Providing thought-provoking leadership, workplace and community insights.

The Pandemic and Working Women with Children

women with children
  • Published
  • 14 May 2021
  • Category
  • General

An increasing number of Americans are returning to full-time work as COVID-19 protection measures are gradually being relaxed. But studies show there is one segment of the population that is being left behind – mothers of young children.

Many of these women have either had to decrease the number of hours they work or leave their jobs entirely to care for their children.

There are a number of reasons why this is occurring. Here are three primary ones:

First, when couples raising children evaluate their options, the higher wage earner is usually the one who continues to work full time while their partner reduces his or her hours or quits to stay home with the kids. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s annual earnings were 82.3 percent of men’s in 2020. The pay gap is even wider for working mothers and many women of color.

Second, affordable child care is not easy to find in many communities. Day-care providers have had to close or reduce their hours, making it difficult for mothers acting as primary caregivers to commit to full-time work.

Lockdowns temporarily closed a third of day-care centers last year, and by December there were still 13 percent fewer open than in 2019, according to Child Care Aware of America, an advocacy group. A December survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found a significant percentage of day-care operators are struggling to remain financially viable because of increased operating costs and decreased attendance.

Third, the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for many people across the board. Women, in particular, have felt the effects of shifting responsibilities at home and increased pressure at work. Fingerprint for Success, a professional development platform, reports:

  • 1 in 4 women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19
  • U.S. companies are at risk of losing up to 2 million female employees; in September 2020 alone, 865,000 women left the workforce
  • 3 out of 4 women considering leaving the workforce or working at reduced capacity cite burnout as the main reason
  • Women with children have been three times more likely than fathers to be responsible for a majority of the housework and childcare during the pandemic
  • Mothers are more likely than fathers to spend an extra 20 hours per week on housework and childcare, increasing pressure on them

Meanwhile, many women under stress say they have trouble sleeping, feel anxious and/or depressed, and do not have time for self-care, which affects their ability to be productive employees and enjoy their lives.

What to Do?

Some of the pressure is expected to be relieved when schools fully re-open. Some schools have committed to re-opening full-time in the fall, while others will continue to offer remote-learning options. Experience already shows that mothers in the home typically provide more supervision for distance learners than do fathers.

COVID-19 vaccination is also expected to provide reassurance for teachers, children and parents. The Pfizer vaccine for children age 12 and teenagers was authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration on May 10. Studies on vaccinations for children under 12 are being conducted with the intention of obtaining emergency use authorization before the end of the year.

Human resource professionals advise employers to:

  1. Offer women who have left the workforce during the pandemic attractive opportunities to make up for lost time.
  2. Reassess policies and provide education to improve work-life balance for all employees, from executives to entry-level workers.
  3. Consider mothers as a class of workers who benefit from support such as flex-schedules, job-sharing, work from home, employee assistance programs and child-care stipends.
  4. Review salaries and attempt to close wage gaps between men and women in equal jobs.
  5. Re-examine paid- and open-leave policies to address employees’ needs while protecting business interests.

We know that when an employee has a work-related injury, the longer they stay off work during recovery, the less likely they are to ever return to work or full function. A similar principle applies to women who have left the workforce.

Women find it is harder to find suitable full-time employment the longer they have been out of the workforce. The sooner they have the support they need to return to work, including child-care coverage, if needed, the sooner they can begin to stimulate the economy, save for retirement and enjoy a better quality of life.

Don’t Miss Out

When you subscribe, you’ll receive periodic updates on our news, publications and events!