Women are still being pushed out of the labor force as the pandemic enters its third year. According to the National Women’s Law Center, more than 4 million jobs have been lost in the United States since February of 2020, with women accounting for more than half of those losses. Meanwhile, one in every three women considered quitting or changing jobs in the previous year.

So, what is causing this? Several reasons. COVID-19 has not only increased work demands but has also increased childcare jobs and housework demands. Amit Batabyl, Arthur J. Gosnell Professor of Economics at Rochester Institute of Technology, says “disproportionate homework” has fallen on the shoulders of women.

“When I say disproportionate homework, I mean things like caring for the elderly, caring for children, and just general housework. Women tend to do more of these things than men, even in the absence of any kind of pandemic,” Batabyl said.

“But in the presence of a pandemic, particularly when you have some children at home because their school jobs are closed, or other people, say elderly parents or relatives can’t move about by themselves and need supervision, these activities are falling disproportionately on women,” Batabyl said.

According to Maranne McDade Clay, Executive Director of the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley, a “major exodus” of women from the workforce occurred in the fall of 2021, when many students were required to learn remotely or do remote jobs.

“I’ve had so many anecdotal stories about women who’ve had kept their children home the first week after break, after school break, because they wanted to keep their family healthy. We need to have employers be understanding, we need to have employees be understanding,” McDade.

But the issue isn’t just that kids aren’t going to school. Finding dependable and affordable child care is also a contributing factor to the number of women leaving the labor force.

“Full-time care for a child under a toddler, which is a higher rate of care and comes with a higher fee, it’s in the range of close to $15,000 as a full-price fee annually,” McDade said. “If you think about a starting salary for somebody being $50,000 and taking $15,000 right off the top, the reality is that while we don’t support and subsidize quality childcare at a greater level, we lose people from the workforce who cannot afford to take that economic hit from the cost of childcare.”

Assemblywoman Sarah Clark is a mother of three who understands the challenges of finding affordable childcare.
“I always say childcare is a math equation that doesn’t work, right? Families can’t afford to pay more, providers aren’t getting reimbursed at their true cost, and our workforce in the childcare sector isn’t paid enough to stay. You can make more money at a fast-food restaurant right now than you can as a childcare worker,” Clark said. Clark has sponsored a number of pieces of legislation to make childcare more accessible and affordable for families.

In December, Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law Clark’s Bill A.5480, which allows “social services districts to pay child care providers by direct deposit for any subsidized child care funds owed. Currently, child care providers are paid by paper check through the mail, which can often delay payments four to six weeks.” Clark said this can be burdensome on providers operating on thin margins. Clark is also currently working on a bill with Senator Jessica Ramos that would make childcare more affordable.

“The first thing we need to do is create a subsidy system that pays more like the true cost of care,” Clark said. “We base it on the market rate, which is an arbitrary sort of, you know, what childcare providers currently provide. And so it hasn’t really changed over the years because it’s just a rate that they charge and they everyone’s afraid to make, you know, charge more because families can afford it.”

She adds that along with increasing subsidies, paying childcare workers and providers more than a minimum wage has to be a priority. “Then we start to need to pump that money back into paying child care workforce more, getting them in line with teachers, these are people that care,” Clark said. “Childcare staff and workers are how my children learned how to take a nap on a schedule and eat. I’m so thankful for them, but we need to pay them more.”

According to a McKinsey and Company report, 42 percent of women reported feeling burned out at work in 2021, up from 32 percent in 2020. During the pandemic, the burnout gap between men and women nearly doubled.

Burnout is maybe even worse for women of color. According to a Washington Post report, 91,000 Black women left the labor force in November, and Black and Hispanic women continue to face high unemployment rates throughout the year. Locally, there are a number of local non-profits throughout the area that supports women in their career transitions and with re-entry into the workplace.

Source: Rochester First

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