How working moms are doing one year into Covid-19

Juggling work and life at home, moms are feeling the pressure

May 10, 2021 | Editorial | The economy
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Happy Mother’s Day?

Working moms deserved an extra big bouquet yesterday. The pandemic has created challenges for all workers, but it’s hit working moms especially hard. According to a 2020 study, moms were 1.5 times more likely to spend an extra three or more hours a day on housework and childcare — in other words, a bonafide part-time job. And research suggests dads aren’t evenly shouldering the load. Over 70% of fathers said they were splitting pandemic-era household responsibilities equally with their partner — but only 44% of mothers agreed. Those clear differences in part led one in three mothers to consider scaling back her career or dropping out of the workforce altogether last year, while far fewer men considered doing the same. Between mounting to-do lists at home and disproportionate job losses, women globally lost out on $800 billion in income in 2020. That's more than the combined GDP of 98 countries.

Hitting a new low

By January 2021, the rate of women participating in the labor force sunk to 57%, the lowest it’s been since 1988. And between last February and this March, nearly 1.1 million women in their prime working years (between 25 and 54) dropped out of the labor force. Even as more women head back to work, losing a year or two of their career to the pandemic can have lasting consequences. For example, someone who makes $50,000 and quits her job to raise children for two years will sacrifice $300,000 to $400,000 in earnings on average over her lifetime. Lost paychecks during the leave, a smaller nest egg, and lower Social Security payments are all to blame. Not to mention, workers tend to earn less after they return from an extended break.

Supermom is super tired

Beyond financial sacrifices, the mental toll of Covid-19 is apparent. A survey of 1,000 moms by theSkimm found 68% have struggled to find work-life balance this past year. Nearly as many (63%) worried about their mental health in the last six months. In the six months before the pandemic, these moms frequently felt gratitude, contentment, and joy. But in recent months, they repeatedly felt exhaustion (70%) and anxiety (64%). And it’s little wonder why. Last March, many companies began allowing parents to work flexible hours. The trouble is, that’s where the accommodations stopped. New York Times journalist Claire Cain Miller, writer of “The Primal Scream,” a series on parenting during the pandemic, reported over 75% of working parents received no additional aid from their employers (think: time off or money for child care). Not to mention, flexible hours were a perk largely available only to white-collar workers.

So, what’s the solution?

For starters, more flexible job opportunities could help moms get back to work. Part-time, white-collar jobs are rare in the US, and they tend to pay disproportionately less than full-time positions. Meanwhile, in Europe, many companies are required to allow employees to work part-time, and they’ve been better able to keep women working as a result. For many families, whether or not mom will work comes down to money. A cash bump from employers could allow working parents to hire a babysitter, get a tutor, or pay a family member to watch the kids so they can focus on Zoom meetings. But throughout the pandemic, few companies have actually paid for child care.

It’s not just up to employers to lighten women’s load. The US is the only rich country that doesn’t offer paid family leave, and one of the few without subsidized child care. Instead of structural solutions and policies, the US has relied on the unpaid labor of women to carry us through times of crisis. But that could soon change. Both President Biden and Senator Mitt Romney have voiced support for a child allowance. Romney’s proposal, the more generous plan, would send parents monthly checks between $250 and $350 per child. The coronavirus relief package, passed in March, expanded child tax credits and allocated more funding for schools. President Biden’s proposed American Families Plan would go one step further in creating social safety nets. While Congressional Republicans are wary of its high price tag, a recent poll shows the majority of voters support the plan.