Working women – especially those who work in concentrated service industries – are vulnerable to the coronavirus economy, as there is overwhelming evidence that women are being laid off or furloughed at a significantly higher rate than men, leading to them being pushed out of the workforce.
In addition — there is yet another threat to women’s paid labor: women are essentially being pushed out of the workforce.
With schools across the country having been closed since the middle of March, along with daycares following suit — parents worry about sending their children off, fearful they will not be able to maintain proper social distancing.
In addition, other support systems for working families seem to have dissipated overnight due to safety reasons. And if the family has enough resources to outsource their other domestic tasks such as house cleaning, laundry, and/or dog walking, they are most likely doing that themselves.
And on top of all of that, parents are now expected to be teaching. And while online learning programs vary, few schools are offering more than a few hours of daily instruction. After that, parents are expected to lesson plan for the remainder of the day. For families without a stable internet connection, their children are cut off from formal education.
The situation poses impossible for caregivers who are out of work along with parents who now work from home. Families are faced with making difficult choices — including forgoing a woman’s paid labor.
“When something has to give, it is very often women’s careers: their working hours, the expectations of what they are able to accomplish on the job, or the job itself,” said Caitlyn Collins, a sociologist of gender and families at Washington University in St. Louis.
And according to early studies, it has been suggested that while fathers are picking up more domestic labor than before the coronavirus, mothers continue to do the majority of the housework and care of young children.
“I’m an economist, so I usually try not to say things without data,” says manager of economic research at Schmidt Futures, Martha Gimbel. “But I feel very comfortable going out on a limb and saying that this burden is going to fall on women. We just know it’s going to be women.”
The choice to quit is a privilege as stay-at-home orders have forced many businesses to scale back drastically. According to Labor Department data for the month of April, sixteen percent of women are currently unemployed while fired and furloughed workers face their own set of tough choices.
And even if they were not actually forced to leave their jobs, many working mothers said the “choice” to stop working didn’t feel like a choice at all. Author of “The Fifth Trimester,” a manual for working moms, Lauren Smith Brody said couples across the nation are most likely making similar calculations such as when they are deciding who should scale back at work, or quit altogether.
On average, U.S. women still make 81 cents for every dollar a man makes — and concentrated in industries that tend to pay less. And for women of color, the wage gap is far greater as black women make 62 cents to the white man’s dollar; Latinas make 54 cents.
And as most mothers get a “motherhood penalty” when they have kids, Brody says — costing them an average of $16,000 per year in lost wages. Meanwhile, fathers enjoy a “daddy bonus,” as the higher earner in a heterosexual couple is more likely to be the man.
In addition, moms are also more likely to leave their jobs during the pandemic as they feel pressure to be a “good mom,” Collins said. Even in the most progressive households, she says women typically do the majority of the domestic labor. And when something is not working at home like it should – be it the kids bouncing off the walls or the house needing deep cleaned – women are more more likely to feel that they need to be the ones to fix it.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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