The COVID-19 pandemic has jolted the routines of many working families as schools across the nation remain on lockdown and children continue learning from home. Mothers who had juggled both a career and their families prior to the pandemic are now finding it very difficult to juggle both while at home and especially with no childcare help.
Last year the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that 72% of all U.S. women with children under 18 were working or looking for work. In 64% of families with two parents, both mother and father were the breadwinners. The increase of the financial power of women and a single source of income not enough to get by in most U.S. cities has helped create a substantial feminine workforce in recent decades.
The Labor Department has recently reported however that when the new school year started in September, women left the workforce that month at a staggering four times the rate than men did. Unemployment in September dropped to 7.9% compared to 8.4% in August, driven primarily by many women leaving the workforce.
In an NPR podcast called, All Things Considered, Youli Lee, a U.S. government worker in cyber-crime living in Virginia, admitted that she had spent some of her days at home hiding from her three children. Speaking from her bedroom, she remarked, “I just actually locked my door so that nobody could come here.”
Lee’s husband is a doctor who was at the hospital seven days a week while she worked from home. She recalls that her younger two children were routinely skipping lunch without the structure of a regular school day. “This is too much,” she exclaimed. Lee, like many other women, had decided she needed to take a leave of absence from her job.
“It’s an impossible task,” remarked C. Nicole Mason, the President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Until we can figure out care, until we can figure out how to open the schools, you can just hang it up … for many women.”
For those mothers who are still working but from home, these women have been shoved into a new system where they must face childcare with an intensity. What are young dependent children supposed to do when most school systems have switched to distance-learning models over COVID-19 concerns? They rely on their parents to guide the way and make it work, even if this means preparing lunches while answering work calls.
Regular uncomplicated household chores have become daunting when women have their own work deadlines. Mothers are being hit with waves of anxiety, stress, and even guilt as they try to manage it all.
Approximately 74% of the one hundred largest school districts have chosen remote learning only this new school year as their back-to-school instructional model. This has affected over 9 million students. “The strategy from Day 1 should have been thinking about how to get kids back into school safely,” said Mason.
Many mothers will soon be forced to decide whether they go back to the workforce or continue working remotely. For some women, it may be a no brainer to continue staying at home, even with its hardships. For many other women, it will be a very hard decision to make.
Rocio Flores, a single mom from Pennsylvania, told the All Things Considered podcast that at one point this past spring she was forced to leave her children home alone when the schools had shut down. In need of a paycheck, Flores recalls calling home frequently to check on her then 7 and 12-year old children. “I had to call like every hour — ‘Are you guys OK?’ I told my neighbor — keep an eye on them, please. That’s the way I did it, going to work scared that something could happen.”
Caitlyn Collins, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis and author of the book Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, commented, “Low-income families, single parents, they see how little support they have constantly because they’re in a never-ending battle to figure out how to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their heads, [to find] someone to watch their kids so they aren’t alone at home while they go to work. It’s advantaged people who have long not seen these difficulties.”
Could paid parental leave be the answer for many families during the pandemic? It may be time for companies and the government to consider these impossible challenges that coronavirus has put on families across the country and to implement solutions.
“The U.S. has no paid parental leave for parents to take during this difficult time. We have no universal childcare system on which parents can rely. We have no federal minimum standard for vacation and sick days, unlike every other Western industrialized country,” Collins says.
“Parents seem angry in a way that I haven’t seen them in the past,” she added.