Lack of child care forced 1.3 million US women out of work since February 2020

 Child care cost has doubled in two decades while wages are stagnant

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only taking lives in America but also taking away the dreams and ambitions to progress in life. It is forcing the working mothers to leave work to take care of children and families.

Working mothers are giving up their careers and personal ambitions to help the families. The situation was not ideal for working mothers before the COVID-19 hit them hard. The expensive child care was a huge problem for many American working class families before the spread of coronavirus. The COVID-19 spread in US has severely affected the businesses and livelihoods. The unemployment rate has already reached 10%.  Millions of jobs have been lost so far.

The lack of child care has forced 1.3 million working mothers to give up jobs to look after the families. Online education is the other reason forcing mothers out of work and helping their children in online lessons.

The research is increasingly pointing to a retreat of working mothers from the US labor force as the pandemic leaves parents with few child care options and the added burden of navigating distance learning.

The trend threatens the financial stability of families in the near-term. In the long-term, the crisis could stall – if not reverse – decades of hard-fought gains by working women who are still far from achieving labour force parity with men.

Child care is necessary for parents. Particularly working mothers, to work and earn an income, yet it has become an increasingly crushing expense for families with young children. Over the past two decades, the cost of child care has more than doubled, while wages have remained mostly stagnant. Many parents find that child care expenses consume most of their paycheck, and some decide to leave the workforce as a result. Typically, mothers are the ones who make that tradeoff.

Research supports that high child care costs and limited financial assistance are driving mothers out of the workforce. Over the past two decades, women’s labor force participation in the United States has stalled while other major developed nations have seen continued growth.

 The high cost of child care is partly to blame: One study found that the rising cost of child care resulted in an estimated 13 percent decline in the employment of mothers with children under age 5. What’s more, the nation’s failure to implement policies that support mothers to enter and remain in the workforce—such as child care and paid family leave—explains about one-third of the decrease in women’s labor force participation when comparing the United States with 22 other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Thousands of school districts are starting the school year with remote instruction, including most of the largest ones. At least half the country’s child care providers are closed and may not survive the crisis without financial help to cope with implementing safety standards and reduced enrollment. Negotiations for a bailout of the industry have stalled in Congress.

In August, the federal jobs reports showed that women in their prime-earning years – 25 to 54 – were dropping out of the work force more than other age groups. About 77 percent of women in that age group were working or looking for work in February, compared to 74.9 percent in August. The decline is most pronounced among Black women of that age range, whose participation rate is down 5 percentage points since February, compared to 4 percentage points for Hispanic women and 2 percentage points for white women.

Overall, the drop translates into 1.3 million women exiting the labour force since February. “We think this reflects the growing child care crisis,” BNP Paribas economists Daniel Ahn and Steven Weinberg wrote in recent report. “It is hard to see this abating soon, and if anything could become worse as we move into fall.”

Few families can afford for mothers not to work indefinitely: Mothers are now are the equal, primary, or sole earners in 40 percent of US families, up from 11 percent in 1960, according to federal labour figures. Women also comprise nearly half the US labour force, making their inability to work a significant drag on the economy and hindering any recovery from the pandemic’s impact.

Despite the leaps over the past decades, working women still entered the pandemic at a disadvantage. They are typically paid 82 cents for every dollar men earn, according to research by the National Women’s Law Center.

Among working mothers and fathers, the wage gap is even higher at 70 cents. The median household earnings for mothers in the US are $42,000, compared to $60,000 for fathers. When left with no choice but to give up one income as child care options collapse, that wage gap incentivises fathers to stay in the workforce and mothers to leave, or at least scale back.

“There is already a motherhood wage gap. In times of uncertainty and recession, you protect the primary earner,” said Liana Christin Landivar, a sociologist at the Maryland Population Research Center and author of the book, “Mothers at Work: Who Opts Out?”

More mothers than fathers have left the labour force since the pandemic began, according to research published in August by Sage Journals, which analysed data from the Current Population Survey. Between February and April, labor force participation fell 3.2 percent among mothers with children younger than 6, and 4.3 percent for those with children 6 to 12. Fathers of children under the age of 12 also left the workforce, but at lower rates, said Landivar, who co-authored the report.

The working mothers make up a majority of the country’s teachers, nurses, child care workers, social workers, librarians, bookkeepers, waitresses, cashiers and housekeepers, according to federal labour figures.

Mothers in particular are the majority of the country’s teachers, nurses and child care workers. Despite the progress over the past two years, 80 percent of US private sector workers have no access to paid family leave, which is not mandated by federal law.

                                                           Rukhsana Manzoor Deputy Editor

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