Are woker workplaces waiting for mothers quitting their jobs due to a pandemic? | Business and Economy

Louisville, Kentucky, United States – Patricia Iverson feels closed. The 33-year-old single mother, mother of two, had worked hard to pay the bills needed to move into a bigger apartment. But when the coronavirus pandemic recently forced the company she worked for in Louisville, Ky., To drastically cut her work hours, she felt like she had no choice but to leave. and find something else.

“It just didn’t make sense to stay a few days a week,” she said.

Iverson, like so many mothers who were laid off or quit during the pandemic, is now looking for a new job – one that will pay the bills and allow him to hang out with his children, who suffer from asthma and asthma. convulsions.

“I feel like a loner with just me and my kids,” Iverson explained.

Women, especially mothers and women of color, have been crushed by the pandemic. Many have been forced to take on full-time, unpaid roles in childcare, education and eldercare, while continuing to manage their full-time paid work. Others, like Iverson, have been forced out of the workforce due to the strains of the pandemic.

As the US labor market recovers, although slower than the economy at large, analysts fear that women have lost years of progress in labor participation. At the same time, they see the pandemic as an opportunity to force a change in the way employers treat working parents – a change that values ​​the benefits that women, and particularly working mothers, bring, and their benefit. gives the flexibility to thrive at home and in the workplace.

Patricia Iverson, like so many mothers laid off or quit during the pandemic, is now looking for a new job [File: Laurin Whitney Gottbrath/Al Jazeera]

Take on the burden

By the time the pandemic was in full swing last April, some 3.5 million mothers of school-aged children had left active work, according to the US Census Bureau. In March of this year, nearly 1.5 million fewer mothers were actively working than in February 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Dawn Morgan Neary, 42, was one of them. Neary spent the first part of the pandemic on maternity leave. When she resumed her job as a public affairs officer in Maryland in July, she faced a steep learning curve with her team already accustomed to working remotely.

Although working from home gave her some flexibility to spend time with her daughter and toddler son, she says she was not allowed to have her children in the room during meetings and that her boss was not open to his work outside of regular office hours. So when she found her son, who started crawling early, wrapped in a power strip under his desk in November, she knew it was time to stop.

“Since I went to graduate school later in life I earned a lot less than my husband, it made sense that it was me who quit my job,” Neary said.

This was a big blow to many women, as mothers, especially black, Latin and Asian women, have historically taken on the burden of household chores and childcare.

It just made sense that I was the only one leaving my job

Dawn Morgan Neary, mother of two

“We mostly saw women who chose not to go back to work even though they could work remotely… because they couldn’t really do their usual job when they were so engrossed in everything that was going on around. of them at home, ”said Diane Lim, Washington, DC area economist and author of The Economist Mom blog.

“That’s what made this ‘sell-off’ even more of a ‘sell-off,'” she said, using the term some economists and media have coined to describe the recession that primarily affects women.

As schools reopen and women consider returning to work, Lim says she believes women are going to have “higher job demands.”

Neary, for example, won’t return to work until her children are vaccinated, but as she contemplates her options, she knows she wants to work part-time. This probably means, she says, completely changing her area of ​​work to meet the needs of her family.

“I finally have to get back to work,” she said, adding that she was thinking about nursing. But for now, “it’s worth the sacrifice. I’ve learned that I never want to put my kids back in daycare again.

We are at the crossroads

Amelia Costigan, catalyst

Lost progress?

Since the start of the pandemic, around 33% of working mothers have considered downgrading their careers or quitting their jobs altogether, according to a recent study by consulting firm McKinsey.

This could have a ripple effect on women’s progress in closing the gender pay gap and on gains made from being better represented in leadership roles.

Even before the start of the pandemic, mothers faced a “maternity penalty” in the labor market. According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), Wednesday was “Equal Pay Mothers Day, which marks the longest year in which mothers have to work to catch up with what fathers did last year alone. .

It didn’t make sense to stay a few days a week

Patricia Iverson, mother who quit her job due to a pandemic

Mothers who worked full-time earned $ 0.75 for every dollar paid to fathers in 2019, resulting in monthly losses of $ 1,275 and annual losses of $ 15,400. The maternity pay gap is even worse for women of color. Latin mothers only received $ 0.46, Native American mothers $ 0.50, and black mothers $ 0.52 for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white men.

Still, “we were able to say that we had made progress,” before the pandemic, said Jess Huang, partner at McKinsey.

“If mothers go out [of the workforce], if women come out, it could wipe out all the progress we’ve made in the past six years [since McKinsey has been tracking the issue], “she said.” And that’s a really big deal, because we know that when companies have gender diversity and companies have leaders at the top who are women… they outperform other companies and that. is good for business. ”

This is a concern shared by economists and other advocates for women in the labor market. But they also say the pandemic offers an opportunity to change the unfair realities that working mothers have experienced for far too long.

“I think we’re at a crossroads,” said Amelia Costigan, senior director of the information center for Catalyst, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing women in the workplace. “We can use this as a call to change and right these wrongs or people, who are exhausted after a year and a half of COVID, might just say, ‘let’s go back to work, as usual.’”

A change?

There are already some promising signs. President Joe Biden’s latest COVID-19 relief package includes more than $ 39 billion to help child care providers and make child care more affordable.

Biden also proposed a multibillion-dollar infrastructure package that includes funding for universal preschool education, childcare assistance, a national family and medical leave program, and an extension of the tax credit. for children. But the plan faces an uphill battle with the Republicans.

At the same time, many say companies must also do more to support working parents. This includes subsidizing childcare services, providing more flexible working hours, redefining what productivity looks like, and creating opportunities for mothers and fathers who have left the labor market. work to come back without losing their progress.

“I think the whole economy is going to evolve towards this realization that we need to pay more attention to the value of our human productive capacity, and how there is nothing that could be better. to grow the economy than to have more people, ”said Lim, the economist. “It’s not hard to see… that we have to start with people when we build and grow an economy.”

For Iverson, the Kentucky single mom, local organizations like Black Lives Matter Louisville and the Black Market have offered her respite from groceries and other expenses while she searches for a job.

Last year has been difficult, she says, but she is optimistic. Her advice to other moms in similar situations: “Hold your head up. God loves you all. Keep pushing. “

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