May 07, 2021

Credit: MoMo Productions / Getty Images

In 2019, women were doing exceptionally well in the workplace — hitting record-setting workforce participation numbers, and holding more non-farm payroll jobs than men for only the second time (in 2009, they had also briefly outpaced men, as men lost jobs more quickly during the Great Recession). 

Then came COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected women and particularly women with children.

Over many months, the issue of child care has “slowly come to a boil” as working parents, and especially working mothers, have found themselves forced to simultaneously manage their careers and care for children stuck at home due to pandemic-driven school closures. Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist in the Labor Department under President Obama and a professor at the University of Michigan, has spent the past year monitoring how the pandemic has pulled the progress of women in the workforce back decades. Stevenson argues that the “insanity” of the U.S.’s lack of infrastructure, to support working parents, has forced women out of the labor force and will require bold political solutions post-pandemic.

Three Takeaways:

  • Despite gains in rights and workforce participation in the 100 years since women’s suffrage, Stevenson says that the issue of inequality in the home, though improved, persists. She hopes the devaluation of domestic labor, which continues to unevenly fall on women, will change, especially if Americans emerge from the pandemic “prioritizing caregiving a bit more.”
  • Women’s labor force participation dropped sharply between August and September 2020 as many mothers realized, as Stevenson did, that the pandemic’s long course meant a large swath of schools would continue to operate virtually when school began again.
  • Stevenson thinks severe wealth inequality, which causes some Americans to work full-time and still only make subsistence wages, creates problems with “tentacles that go through our entire society” — like workers not being able to afford time off if they or their kids get sick. The real question in her eyes is whether the momentum coming out of this moment will be used to create structures in society that make it easier for both men and women to succeed in the workplace, at home, and in “caring for the people they need to care for.”

More Reading:

  • We spoke with Stevenson a year ago to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and to take stock of where women stood during the early days of the pandemic. Listen to that conversation here.
  • When the country is in economic freefall, less people decide to become parents (often, interestingly, in perfect proportion with the percent of economic downturn). Last year, we spoke with economist Melissa Kearney about the baby bust she predicts Covid will cause. Preliminary data agrees with her.
  • President Biden recently unveiled the “American Families Plan,” a proposal set on expanding how we help families. NPR breaks down what the plan would mean; highlights include universal preschool, paid child leave, and free community college.
  • If publication is the currency of academia, then more women researchers are going bankrupt. STAT reports on multiple studies that have found women researchers are publishing less during the pandemic, and what employers can do about the widening chasm between them and their male counterparts.

women, work, COVID-19, Betsey Stevenson, pandemic

Previous Post

The Invisible Future of American Jobs

Next Post

The People Powering AI Decisions

comments powered by Disqus