The pandemic has been tough on working parents, especially mothers who have borne the brunt of the increased juggling of caregiving. The fallout weighs on their financial security and threatens the Federal Reserve’s efforts to control inflation.
Half a million more prime-age working women dropped out of the labor force than men with the onset of the pandemic. Women’s participation in the labor market is beginning to recover, reaching 58.4% in August. That’s still nearly a full percentage point below pre-pandemic levels, and women have still lost 98,000 net jobs since before the pandemic, even though men have recouped all their losses and now hold 338,000 more jobs than men. in February 2020, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Not only were women more strongly represented in sectors hard hit by the pandemic and frontline jobs with little flexibility for remote work, but they were also more likely to shoulder a greater share of increased care demands. created by the pandemic. And those demands have persisted even as school has resumed in person, in part due to a shortage of paid care with one in 12 jobs in that industry still missing. In households where neither partner has a bachelor’s degree, the number of dual-income couples has declined, says Katie Lim, a researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve. These parents may not have as much opportunity to be flexible and work from home as those in jobs requiring a higher level of education, she adds.
But mothers who are still working in the workforce also face challenges. Based on a new analysis from the National Women’s Law Center, full-time working mothers earned just 74 cents in 2020 for the dollar earned by their working father counterparts. That’s 10 cents less than women in general and a penny less than working mothers before. pandemic. The gap was even wider for working mothers of color, with Latina women paying less than half — 47 cents — and black mothers paying just 52 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white fathers. These statistics likely underestimate the economic reality on the ground now, as working women have re-entered the workforce in different ways than before the pandemic, including taking jobs at lower levels after being laid off or reducing hours or duties to manage the burden of care, says Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center, which tracks labor trends monthly.
For example, working women were more likely than men to have moved from full-time to part-time work since the start of the pandemic, with women who made such a change being twice as likely to cite the challenges and responsibilities of caring for the move as men. Other surveys have shown that women forfeit promotions or have less time to engage in the type of work that could improve their earning power.
Examining the pay gap between all working parents, part-time and full-time, offers insight into the economic reality on the ground. Working mothers faced an even bigger wage gap – earning just 58 cents for every dollar earned by fathers. Already, by taking time out of their careers to provide care and earning less, women have, on average, less to fund what tends to be longer retirements than their male counterparts since they live longer.
This gap could get even worse: “If women with children value flexibility and take jobs or work with employers who offer such policies, one thing that worries me is how much they will be penalized – and if it will exacerbate the gender gap,” says the Minneapolis Fed’s Lim. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Studies, 42% of women worked from home last year compared to 35% of men.
As employers begin to cut some of the benefits offered during the pandemic, such as paid parental leave, flexibility and caregiving supports, Tucker fears that more women will redirect their careers or leave the workforce, which will further harm their financial security and complicate the Fed’s efforts to cool an already strapped labor market.
Write to Reshma Kapadia at firstname.lastname@example.org