A September report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that hundreds of thousands of women have been laid off or left their jobs this month.

By Libby Ryan
October 07, 2020
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Seven months into the coronavirus pandemic, it's clear that parents are paying a heavy price for keeping their families and the general population safe from the deadly virus. And September showed those effects in full force. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, hundreds of thousands of women left the workforce—in just one month.

Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress and a dad himself, tweeted about the results of the report. "We totally knew this was coming," he wrote on Twitter. "But this month is a disaster for working women. 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force. 216,000 men did."

While the overall trend suggests people of all genders are losing work or leaving jobs in order to care for children or other relatives, the numbers tell a clearly gendered story. The fallout from the pandemic is primarily affecting women—moms aren't getting the support they need.

A recent report from McKinsey Company and Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In showed that 1 in 4 women say they are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely. The report cited several reasons why women are in this position, including feeling like they need to be available at all hours, difficulties balancing caregiving responsibilities and work, the worry they might be judged or treated differently for needing a flexible schedule, and being burned out.

“Some companies may think that worrying about employee burnout is a luxury they can’t afford right now. In fact, it’s mission-critical. If companies rise to the moment, they can head off the disaster of losing millions of women and setting gender diversity back years,” wrote Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas in the report.

Other surveys throughout the pandemic show that even in heterosexual couples where both parents are working from home, mothers end up doing more housework and child care. Since many child care facilities outside the home are still closed, unaffordable, or unsafe for those with high-risk members in their family, moms end up picking up the slack. And without government assistance, child care will remain inaccessible to many families in the next stages of the pandemic.

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Of course, the child care crisis didn't start with coronavirus, but the pandemic revealed many problems with the U.S. child care system not often discussed before schools shut down and public safety measures began. In March, the CARES Act provided $3.5 billion for child care but more than six months later, experts suggest there's still huge financial need for both child care providers to keep operating and for parents to be able to afford child care programs.

For parents, especially moms left behind during the crisis, child care is a crucial voting issue this year. President Donald Trump allocated $1 billion of his 2021 budget to child care funding, as well as continuing to fund the Child Care and Development Block Grant at the Department of Health and Human Services. Former Vice President Joe Biden says he plans to allocate $775 billion to the child care crisis, including universal preschool and tax credits to reimburse families for some of their child care costs.

Although the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives recently passed two bills—the Child Care is Essential Act and the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, which would fund child care by $100 billion over the next five years—the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to pass either bill. But there's still time to contact your current representatives before the election to have your voice heard about prioritizing child care on the political agenda.

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