America’s parents — mothers in particular — have been hit hard by the pandemic. Supervising distance learning and keeping their children safe from a health crisis forced some to quit their jobs. But the vaccine rollout and Washington’s promises to spend big on child care could help moms get back to work.
“Making schools and daycare facilities safe and instilling parents with the confidence to send their children off in the morning could add thousands of workers back to the labor force,” said Evan Karson and Dante DeAntonio, economists at Moody’s Analytics, in a new report.
That will help mothers especially. Even though both men and women founds themselves unemployed or out of the labor force through no fault of their own last year, women were hit much harder. They remain more likely to be in charge of care responsibilities at home. And during the pandemic, these care needs were maxed out.
This trend was particularly visible last September when school started, and hundred thousands of women left the labor force. Someone who is no longer in the workforce is both unemployed and not looking for a new job.
Karson and DeAntonio believe some 440,000 prime-age women workers are now sitting on the sidelines because of pandemic-related child care responsibilities. That’s a big chunk of the workers who left the job force when Covid-19 hit.
“This estimate of 440,000 accounts for more than 15% of the difference between the size of the labor force today and the size of the pre-pandemic labor force,” they said.
As of March, America was still down more than 8 million jobs compared with February 2020.
The pandemic’s outsized effect on female workers was due to women representing a disproportionate share of employees in severely disrupted industries such as hospitality. According to Moody’s, the United States had the biggest jump in female unemployment out of any country in the G7, a group of seven nations, which includes the the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan.
Hopes remain high that some of these devastating numbers will reverse as the economy, schools and day cares fully reopen.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s ambitious American Families Plan proposes more help with child care costs, and providing paid family leave, which could make it easier for women to re-enter the labor market.
But the next worry for economists isn’t far behind: The longer a person is out of the workforce, the harder it becomes for them to find a job again. This could mean that many women who have been forced to make the decision to stay home will remain on the sidelines for longer.