Erin Arvedlund The Philadelphia Inquirer
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Erin Arvedlund reports, "Women have borne a greater share of job losses during the pandemic. One in three working mothers is considering leaving the workforce or downshifting careers, which could stunt their incomes for decades, surveys show."
After 15 years in a high-paying finance job, Joanna Lepore knew she'd have to quit, for a once-unthinkable reason — she has children.
"I never had any intention of leaving my job," said the married mother of two kids under 10 years of age living in Haddonfield, Pa. But working remotely — while home-schooling her son and watching her toddler daughter shut out of day care — burned her out.
With child care and schools closed, the veteran of the Wall Street investment firm PIMCO left her job onboarding clients in August, just before the remote school year resumed. Her husband is employed in food distribution and works outside the home.
Lepore, 38, has lots of company. Women have borne a greater share of job losses during the pandemic. One in three working mothers is considering leaving the workforce or downshifting careers, which could stunt their incomes for decades, surveys show. Women already shoulder more responsibility for the domestic and emotional work in a family — disparities heightened by COVID — and typically make less than men — 82 cents on the dollar.
Now entering Year Two of the coronavirus, women increasingly are forced to choose: career or family?
Study after study, including a recent McKinsey 2020 report, show that women reduced work hours, or left jobs altogether, to care for children, said coauthor Jessica Huang, a partner in McKinsey's Silicon Valley office.
"The higher load of household work and child care means women are feeling burnt out more than male counterparts."
Job losses among men (5.1%) and women (5.9%) between January 2020 and January 2021 show women pay the price. For women of color, unemployment is higher. More than 1 in 12 Black women (8.5%) were unemployed in January 2021.
"Women of color bear the brunt," said Tina Tchen, CEO of the nonprofit Times Up Now, which fights gender discrimination in the workplace. "The pandemic exposed long-standing lack of caregiver infrastructure for all women."
Now some employers have increased paid leave or stipends to keep women in the ranks. The federal government and states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey are also spending millions of dollars to rescue shuttered day-care centers and enable women to keep working. But will it be enough? "I had to be strong for everyone"
Ellen Yin, one of Philadelphia's top restaurateurs, had to fire 150 workers last spring, roughly 90% of her staff.
"Our industry has large numbers of undocumented workers and immigrants, many of whom never had income before," she said. "They don't qualify for unemployment, and that weighs on us."
During the pandemic, she was also caring for her elderly mother, who had a debilitating stroke. "We weren't able to have caregivers come, and she needs 24-hour-a-day supervision," Yin said.
In between applying for emergency loans for her business, Yin drove an hour each way to pick up her mother's helper multiple times per week. "My mom gets up every hour some nights. I typically get five to six hours' sleep," she said. "I function."
As a senior leader in her industry, Yin felt the pressure to be always "on," especially for her workers who remained. "I had to be strong for everyone. Even though leaders don't have any better clue than anyone else. I haven't cried in front of them — yet."
And her businesses? "We're not thriving, but we're surviving."
Dropping out A perfect storm of child-care gaps and school blackouts is crippling the careers of women, especially those caring for younger kids. By any measure, child-care centers across America have struggled.
Enrollment last spring cratered and never fully rebounded. Fresh expenses, from protective gear to deep cleaning, put them deeper in the hole, forcing up to 40% of U.S. day cares to shutter. Those that remain enrolled fewer children.
The pandemic also forced most schools in the region to close over the last year. Philadelphia public schools just reopened a few classes last week after 361 days of closure. Wealthier suburban districts brought back children earlier but with shorter hours. Disruption was nearly universal.
The combination walloped working women, creating a "pink collar recession," said Diane Cornwall-Levy, executive director of Women's Way in Philadelphia.
By February, more than 2.3 million American women had dropped out completely from the labor force since the start of the pandemic. That dragged down women's labor-force participation rate — the percent of adult women working or looking for work — to 57%. Pre-pandemic, women's labor participation rate had not been this low since 1988.
By comparison, 1.8 million men left the labor force since February 2020. Overall, Greater Philadelphia's employment fell 8 percentage points to 68.4% between 2020 and 2019, according to Philadelphia Federal Reserve data. The decline was especially fueled by job losses among members of three demographic groups who had obtained no more than a high school diploma: Black men, Black women, and Hispanic women, Fed researcher Keith Wardrip found.
Unemployment hit those groups hardest — employment-rate declines approached or topped 20% for these subsets of workers vs. a year ago. The unemployment rate for women in the Philadelphia region (6%) is still nearly twice as high as it was in February 2020 (3.1%).
Nationally, nearly 1 in 11 Latinas (8.5%), and more than 1 in 13 Asian women (7.9%) remained unemployed, according to the National Women's Law Center. For white women, the rate was 5.2%.
It's largely women working America's low-paying jobs.
"A lot of these industries are heavily female, particularly food and beverage and hospitality. Those were hit first and hardest. Women are naturally adversely impacted," said Doneene Damon, managing partner of the Richards, Layton & Finger law firm in Wilmington, Del.
"It's been the perfect storm," Damon said. "We're now in year two. Everyone's exhausted. Women are completely overwhelmed with child care and household care, plus their jobs."
One attorney faked leaving her house every day, got in her car, and waved goodbye to her 3-year old, then sneaked back in the house to work upstairs, Damon said. Others put red-light/green-light signs on guestroom doors so they could "teach the kids to follow those instructions and not interrupt."
Her 85-year-old mother assumed Damon was available all the time because "I was home. Even today, late in the afternoon, my mother knows it's safe to come into my office. I don't schedule Zoom calls at that time, because she wants to be with me."
'I either sacrifice my family or my career' Without school, day care, or outside help, women are more likely than male colleagues to leave jobs or work less. This hurts earnings for years, from middle-class women to high earners.
"I reached a breaking point," said Lepore. "I loved my job and people I worked with, aside from a boss who demanded a ton of face time, and, strangely enough, was a woman. There was no way I'd make it through with my sanity intact. I either sacrifice my family or my career."
She recently started remote work at the financial services firm IHS Markit with a more understanding boss.
The United States is now at risk of losing $64.5 billion in economic activity in a year from women's lost wages — largely due to the lack of child care. Schools must reopen
Alison Perelman calls the "emotional labor" of working from home the toughest double-duty — attending to a child educated on Zoom, motivating family to stick to a routine, undertaking household chores, and cooking endless meals.