July 24, 2020

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COVID-19 has dramatically changed the lives of millions of families, with some parents losing their jobs, while others struggle to keep them. For working parents, careers are competing now, more than ever, with another pressing responsibility—caring for their children. 

Betsey Stevenson, who served as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and is now a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, explains how the burden of childcare during COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women. She says that the pandemic could have a lasting effect on gender equality in the workplace for years to come.

Three Takeaways:

  • At the beginning of the year, before the pandemic disrupted the American workforce, women passed men on U.S. payrolls, excluding farms and self-employment. Stevenson says that progress is now in jeopardy. Closings of non-essential and elective healthcare services hit women particularly hard, as they comprise the majority of workers in those fields, she explains. Overall employment levels for women plummeted this spring to where they had been in the 1980s. 
  • Although some jobs are coming back, women are at a marked disadvantage because of what Stevenson describes as a “crisis of care,” with women still tending to be the average household’s primary caregiver. She says that the demands of childcare have typically impacted how women work—for example, picking jobs with fewer hours or shorter commutes. Now, the question is how long women will be able to—and how long their employers will let them—juggle their responsibilities successfully. 
  • Stevenson hopes that today’s circumstances will illuminate how essential childcare is to the workforce and our economy. Future solutions, both in response to COVID-19 and afterwards, should be guided by this relationship, rather than a view of childcare as a personal issue. The pandemic’s disruption of both formal and informal care has revealed the shortcomings of the United States’ patchwork system. 

More Reading:

women, Working From Home, Suffrage, Betsey Stevenson, Business, feminism

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