Working moms feel brunt of pandemic

Posted on Dec 31, 2020 :: Commentary
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Whether it is limiting the number of our social gatherings, preventing us from watching live sports events or concerts, or requiring us to mask up when out in public, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed everyone’s lives. For women with young children, it’s been especially challenging since they are trying to balance their jobs with caring for their children, who may be home because their day care or school is closed. For many women, that reality has forced them to quit their jobs or scale back their hours.

In recent months, I’ve followed with interest research showing just how much the pandemic has negatively affected women and their careers. At a St. Norbert College webinar last month, experts from the college and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue poured through data they’ve gathered on the economy in the state and here in the New North. The statistics they shared about women and their workforce involvement were stunning.

“The data shows that with moms with young kids, four out of five left the workforce or reduced their hours,” said Emily Camfield, an economist with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. “Moms are just taking on more duties at home.”

That’s a comment I can agree with. Last spring when my high school students were learning from home, I faced frequent interruptions, whether it was questions

about what was for lunch or serving as the onsite IT person if something wasn’t working right with their virtual learning. I know those disruptions are minor compared to mothers with younger children who may not know how to find their way around a computer or solve a math equation.

That’s why I wasn’t too surprised seeing a study from McKinsey & Co. that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving them altogether due to the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. Bringing the study closer to home, I began hearing from women that they, or someone they knew, were doing just that. The common reason? They were exhausted by the nearly impossible task of getting their work done while taking care of their children when day cares closed and/or overseeing their virtual learning when schools closed.

The struggle of balancing work and child care/virtual schooling responsibilities is costing the economy at least $341 billion, a report from [email protected] says.

The author got to that figure based on a number from Gallup, which said not being fully engaged at work equates to about 34 percent of a person’s salary. If there are 31

million working moms who make an average of $40,000, do the math and you come up with the $341 billion. It’s not that these moms don’t want to be engaged; it’s just more challenging when your child needs help with math or can’t log in to her Google Meet.

Beyond sitting out of the paid workforce due to child care issues, some women’s jobs were simply eliminated. The McKinsey report found while women make up 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, they accounted for 54 percent of initial coronavirus-related job losses and still account for 49 percent of them.

Women tend to work in higher numbers in the sectors hit hardest by the recession — hospitality, entertainment and supportive roles at schools. “Female unemployment reached double digits for the first time since they’ve been collecting this information,” Camfield said.

The numbers are even worse for women of color, who make up a disproportionate share of workers in the hotel industry (24.3 percent) and the food service industry (30.3 percent).

As the pandemic drags on and women’s stress levels continue their upward trend, a last bit of information I gathered from the McKinsey study should worry all employers: Women are 2-to-1 more likely to quit or change jobs within the next year.