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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:
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.
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.
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.
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