politico – The pandemic has driven women out of the workforce. Will they come back?

For Haley Stomp, a 46-year-old woman in Des Moines, Iowa, the coronavirus upset the elaborate balance she and her husband had put in place to care for their two boys. After spending hours last fall reviewing their finances, figuring out how much time they could go without his earnings as senior vice president of marketing at a global multinational, Stomp took a sabbatical early in the year. year and later decided not to return.

“I just couldn’t imagine coming back,” she said, “in the constant meetings.”

In the months since leaving, she went through different stages – sometimes wondering if she’ll ever be motivated enough to return to work, or more recently, becoming excited again about having a job once she’s gone. she’ll have found something with the right amount of flexibility. .

“Covid took some of that fear away, that fear of change, because we were already going through so much change,” Stomp said. “It was time to take risks.”

Obstacles to returning to the labor market proved particularly acute for mothers, who disproportionately take on babysitting responsibilities in the United States and who began to take on the added burden of helping children through the virtual school when schools were closed due to of the pandemic.

The participation of women in the labor market fell sharply during the first shutdown of the economy, possibly reflecting their disproportionate representation in sectors of the service industry that were decimated by the closures. Their participation rate started to pick up over the summer, but then dropped again in the fall when the school year started and more children needed help with learning. line. According to one study, about 44% of women said they were the only one in their household providing care when schools and daycares closed, compared to just 14% of men.

Mothers of school-aged children are now find jobs more slowly compared to 2019 than those without dependent children, according to an analysis by Misty Heggeness, senior economist at the US Census Bureau. And two economists from the University of Pennsylvania found that not only did the daycare closures last year increase unemployment for mothers with young children in the short term, but the effects of unemployment have increased over time and have increased. persisted even after the closure orders were lifted.

“We need to make progress, great progress in terms of child care so that women can return to the workforce,” said Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus.

Speier and other Democratic lawmakers and economists have begun to warn that without sweeping federal intervention – especially investments in accessible and affordable child care and policies mandating paid family leave – the participation rate of women the labor market could drag on for years and never fully return to its pre-2020 level. Investing in child care would have the dual benefit of employing more workers in industry, where women hold 95 percent of all jobs.

President Joe Biden has proposed large-scale investments in new policies to support children and families, including some $ 650 billion to make child care programs more affordable, implement universal preschool and create the the country’s first national paid family and medical leave program. But Republicans and even some Democrats have criticized the cost of Biden’s proposals, with some suggesting the economy is recovering well on its own and doesn’t need more help.

Meanwhile, data shows that in recent months, “moms are sort of pulling back,” said Heggeness of the Census Bureau, which broke down Department of Labor data to examine the plight of mothers living with children. dependent on women in general. . “Some of them, it seems, find it difficult to stay actively at work.”

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