Working moms bear the brunt of COVID’s economic effects. Their career gains could disappear

Los Angeles Unified School District students Keiley Flores, 13, Andrea Ramos, 10, Alexander Ramos, 8, work on school-issued computers with unreliable internet connectivity at their Los Angeles home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their mother Anely Solis, 32, and their brother Enrique Ramos, 5, look on. August 18, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The official unemployment rate in the U.S. is just under 8% right now, but working mothers are feeling the crush particularly acutely. It’s not just those who've lost their jobs because of the pandemic. As many as one in four women are considering cutting back on their hours or leaving their jobs entirely, according to a recent study from LeanIn.org and consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Women are taking care of their kids at home, supervising remote learning, doing more housework (simply because more bodies under one roof means more cleaning to do). Why is this falling on women’s shoulders? 

Jessica Grose, lead editor for The New York Times’ newsletter on parenting, explains that culturally for the past 200 years or so, people have considered women as better equipped to be parents than men. Also, she’s spoken to historians who say that whenever a new task must be done, women take care of it. She adds that for many systemic reasons, women tend to make less money than men, so when couples must decide on who will step back from work, it ends up being women. 

“Many families are making these decisions among themselves, and it makes sense in the moment, but I think the long term effects of it can be pretty brutal,” Grose says.

She says women are hoping to return to where they left off after there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, since many invested years of education and work to reach where they are today. 

“The problem is that there's a very well established thing called the motherhood penalty, which is that if you leave the workforce for a prolonged period of time … over six months is the statistic that I've seen, it can be difficult for you to get back to where you were, both in salary and title. … It's going to be up to employers to be understanding of any leaves that are taken during this time period,” Grose says. 

For women who are essential workers, they’re in an impossible situation, Grose notes. “A single mother told me she felt like she was choosing between her health and her financial stability. And I think that that description fits a lot of women who are essential workers.” 

Meanwhile, Congress has not passed another coronavirus stimulus package, and Grose says many families are really in trouble as that continues to be tied up. 

However, she points to one silver lining. In New York City, where she lives, public schools have reopened in a hybrid situation. “It's been over a month since they've been back in session. They do not seem to be a site of increased spread of the virus.”

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Sarah Sweeney and Rebecca Mooney

Credits

Guest:
Jessica Grose - lead editor for the New York Times’ parenting newsletter

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Angie Perrin, Michell Eloy, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Amy Ta, Rebecca Mooney