Nobody expected it in 2020, but COVID meant an incredible hit to the economy. For many reasons, the spread of the novel coronavirus across America meant businesses and families began to struggle. Retail and hospitality were hit the hardest, and low-paid workers of every gender lost their jobs. White-collar workers were often asked to work from home – and in many cases, businesses were forced to make redundancies to their workforce in these sectors, too.
There’s no doubt that the economic impact of COVID has hit everyone hard. But there’s growing evidence that women have been hit the hardest. As well as a disproportionate impact on job losses, secondary effects of COVID such as school closures and restrictions on child care have had a significant impact on women.
COVID and Childcare – The Responsibility Lands On Women
In 2019, there were around 10 million young mothers in the workforce. These women are typically new to the labor market and not firmly established in the roles under which they’re employed. Simultaneously, they tend not to be the breadwinner of the family. As the global health crisis unfolded, schools were forced to close, and childcare opportunities diminished – the American Center for Progress estimates that over 4 million childcare slots disappeared almost overnight.
This created a hidden crisis of childcare – the overwhelming majority of parents now report that they are responsible for child care throughout the working week and support children with remote schooling. Thanks to the statistical likelihood of women’s vulnerability in the workforce, the burden of childcare is falling heavily on women.
A Loss Of Income
It’s impossible to state for sure how many women left the workforce due to the childcare implications of COVID, but studies are beginning to hint at the damage being caused. Between April and August, census data shows that around 1 in 10 women either left the workforce or reduced their hours due to childcare commitments. This creates huge implications in a loss of wages for women as a whole – potentially over 80 billion dollars of wages will be lost to working mothers.
Naturally, this causes families close to the breadline to struggle further. It also exacerbates the gender pay gap, undoing years of work in reversing economic inequality between men and women – a 5% reduction in working women would reverse the progress achieved in the last two decades. These are huge implications for a society that has been making progress in recent years – and, crucially, it’s bad for men and women as the economy suffers when fewer individuals are working.
What Can Be Done?
With huge implications for gender equality and the economy as a whole – not to mention the impact on an individual’s life and wellbeing – there’s a strong incentive towards government intervention. That’s why dozens of prominent women are now calling for action. In a letter to the New York Times, President Biden’s government was called upon to implement a ‘Marshall Plan for Moms’ to save the economy and protect years of progress.
The letter, which includes signatories such as Amy Schumer and Charlize Theron, calls for the implementation of a number of policies. There’s a need for immediate, short-term relief to generate an economic buffer – a monthly, means-tested payment would make up for the shortfall in wages impacting young mothers.
Long Term Policy
Further, there is a range of policies that can protect the female workforce more generally. It’s time this vulnerable group had the protection they, and our economy, need. In the long term, affordable and accessible childcare needs to be made available to everyone. One positive effect of a global crisis is that it throws into sharp relief the failings of your economy, and in America, an absence of childcare has been brewing a crisis for a while. Enabling these women to thrive in the workforce is beneficial for them personally but has profound economic implications for the country as a whole. This government can prioritize childcare, creating a thriving early-years industry that gets more people into work both as parents and caregivers.
COVID hit us hard in 2020, and people from every demographic are struggling. Working mothers, however, are at an intersection that makes them susceptible to economic fluctuations, and society as a whole has an interest in protecting this group. Let’s hope that the “Primal Scream” is heard.
George J. Newton is a freelance journalist at NextCoursework.com and PhD Writing Service. He has been exploring social and cultural problems from an intersectional perspective for a decade, uncovering structural injustice and seeking to find ways to redress societal imbalances.