The pandemic has both laid bare the disproportionate burden many women bear in caring for aging children or parents, and highlighted the vital role they have long played in the US workforce. .
NEW YORK (AP) – There was a time when Naomi Peña could seemingly do it all: work full time and raise four children on her own.
But when the viral pandemic struck early last year, her personal challenges began to increase and she was faced with a painful decision: her kids or her job?
She chose her children. In August, Peña quit her well-paid job as an executive assistant at Google in New York. In doing so, she joined millions of other women who are staying out of the labor market recovery while caring for loved ones, seeking affordable child care, re-evaluating their careers or by changing their work-life priorities.
“I had to pivot,” said Peña, 41, who said the pandemic had disrupted the lives of her children and caused her to put her career on hold because she felt she was no longer needed. at home than at work.
“I left a salaried job with incredible benefits so I could finally be around with my kids,” she said.
A single mother of four kids going from college to college, Peña knows she will eventually have to look for another full-time job – or join the odd-job economy – to regain a steady income. Not yet.
The pandemic has both laid bare the disproportionate burden many women bear in caring for aging children or parents, and highlighted the vital role they have long played in the US workforce. . The United States cut tens of millions of jobs when states began shutting down huge swathes of the economy after the COVID-19 eruption. But as the economy rebounded quickly and employers posted record vacancies, many women have delayed their return to work, whether on purpose or not.
Even with the kids back in school, the influx of women into the labor market that most analysts expected has yet to materialize. The number of women working or looking for work actually declined in September compared to August. For men, the number has increased.
For parents of young children, the gender disparities are glaring. Among mothers of children 13 and under, the proportion working in September was almost 4% below pre-pandemic levels, according to Nick Bunker, director of economic research at the Indeed website. For fathers of young children, the decline was only 1%.
“A lot of women have left the workforce – the question is how permanent will this be? Said Janet Currie, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and co-director of the Families and Children program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “And if they have to come back, when will we see them come back?” I don’t know the answers to all of this.
Many economists and officials, including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, had speculated that reopening schools would free more mothers to take up jobs. So far, this has not happened. The delta variant caused temporary school closures in many areas, which may have discouraged some mothers from returning to work in September. The number of working mothers actually fell for a second consecutive month.
Still, economists are hoping that with increased vaccinations resulting in fewer viral cases, Friday’s October U.S. employment report will show an increase in the number of employed women. Any gain, however, is likely to be small, and it could take months to at least partially reverse the impact of the pandemic on women’s employment.
One of the main reasons, noted Currie, is the growing difficulty in finding reliable and affordable child care.
This crisis, Currie suggested, “probably gives some people pause, because if you can’t get child care and you have young children, someone has to take care of them.”
Besides childcare, experts point to other factors that have prevented some women from working. The number of people who do not work because they care for sick relatives remains high. And surveys conducted by the job boards website have found that many unemployed people are not very looking for a job because their spouses are still working.
When the pandemic erupted in the spring of 2020, an estimated 3.5 million mothers with school-aged children lost their jobs, took time off, or left the workforce entirely, according to Census Bureau analysis.
A new report, “Women in the Workplace,” from consulting firm McKinsey & Co. illustrates how the pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on female workers. He revealed that over the past year, one in three women had thought about quitting their job or “downgrading” their career. At the start of the pandemic, however, according to the study’s authors, only one in four women had considered leaving.
“Women are even more exhausted today than they were a year ago,” the report says, “and the burnout gap between women and men has almost doubled”: 42% of women said they felt exhausted this year, compared with 32% who said so in 2020. In contrast, a lower proportion of men – 35% – felt exhausted this year, compared to 28 % in 2020.
Months before the pandemic, Keryn Francisco, a 51-year-old former designer for The North Face, had to decide to move, with her company, to Denver.
She finally decided not to go. And as COVID-19 raged, she became more comfortable with her decision, even if it meant being unemployed and reducing her severance pay. She was receiving unemployment benefits and chose to work as a self-employed person to avoid drawing too much into savings.
A solo parent, Francisco wanted to focus on caring for his now 10-year-old son and elderly parents in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“It was out of a sense of responsibility and obligation,” she said. “But also, honestly, I didn’t know what was going on with COVID. So there was a lot of fear and a kind of insecurity about the death of my parents. “
While away from work, Francisco made a discovery that hadn’t been entirely clear to him before: “I was exhausted. Now she is thinking about the conditions for a return to the full-time labor market.
“Once you step off the corporate treadmill,” she said, “you can actually catch your breath. Something is changing inside of you.
Many other women cannot afford to be so selective, even if they want to. Tens of millions of working women, many of whom are people of color, have low-wage jobs and struggle to pay for rent, food, utilities and other necessities.
“There may be labor shortages, but a lot of people are working right now and doing it because there really isn’t a choice,” said Debra Lancaster, Executive Director of the Center for Women. and Work from Rutgers University. “They have to work to put food on their table.”
Ashley Thomas, who is in her early 40s, said her sabbatical from her job as a public policy activist was only temporary, but it was a much-needed respite to further examine her career options.
“I had this opportunity to step back and take a break – because I’ve worked hard all my adult life,” Thomas said. “It’s not a permanent break. It’s a temporary break.
There was no single trigger, Thomas said, for her decision to quit her job as a public policy activist based in Jacksonville, Florida. The virus played a role, although even she wasn’t sure how much of a factor it was.
“I have family members who are older and maybe not in better health that I was very worried about,” she said. “We have two teenagers here coming home from school, and it’s a very difficult time for them to kind of be out of school and not interacting with their friends so much.”
She recognizes that many other women cannot afford such a break from work. Thomas’ husband remains employed and his two teenage stepchildren don’t need as much attention.
“Women are known to take the brunt of the emotional work involved in running a household – and working on top of that,” she said. “It’s probably inevitable that people will have some sort of calculation to reconsider the trajectory of their lives, especially after a pandemic. “
Rugaber contributed from Washington.
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