A temporary federal rule requires paid leave, subsidized with tax credits for employers, for parents forced to stay home because of school and child-care closings. New York state sued to get an August court order allowing the leave to be stopped and resumed when needed.
Some employers are trying to bridge the gap with subsidies for nannies and other in-home help for parents.
Women are more likely to work and to hold full-time, well-paid jobs than they were in the 1970s, according to the Brookings study. But that success comes at a price: Women are more time-squeezed than ever because they're still expected to do more than their share of work in the home as well.
"Without new policies and practices that involve greater sharing of the burdens of unpaid work in the home, more support for time-squeezed working families, and higher pay for both men and women, whatever growth we have seen in middle-class incomes may disappear entirely," the study concluded.
Some states have reacted to parents' need for more help in the pandemic. New Mexico amended rules in September to allow child-care subsidies for people working at home, and has also helped child-care providers with payments when they're forced to close their doors. Michigan is considering a bill to extend child-care subsidies to people with incomes up to 250% of the poverty threshold during the emergency.
California's budget passed in June included $152 million to help child-care providers affected by closings if they can provide distance learning services to children. Illinois set aside $270 million to help distressed child-care operations.
Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, a Democrat from Mesilla, one of only two New Mexico state legislators with children at home, said more needs to be done to reopen child-care centers and schools so life can return to normal for mothers like herself.
"This has fundamentally changed and disrupted the lives of working mothers. It's going to take a lot of work to catch up and regain our position in the workplace," said Lara Cadena, 37, who works at home both as a lawmaker and a magazine research director, while supervising two daughters, ages 13 and 9.
She feels fortunate to work for a female-owned company that already provides flexible schedules so she hasn't had to lose work hours. Her partner, the father of her children, has often been on the road this school year for film industry projects.
Internet connections are crucial both for her work and her daughters' schoolwork, she said.
But with only the bandwidth from a dial-up connection, she has to drop out of legislative committee meetings when her children need to do schoolwork. In the spring, one teacher held his Zoom meeting with students in a McDonald's parking lot for lack of home internet access, she said.
Her new chores include going to one child's school to pick up torn-out pages of a math book for daily lessons since the school is not allowed to send the textbook home. Pressing an online "Done!" button for assignments rarely works, so she has to help her younger daughter craft an e-mail with a screenshot of the finished work.
"This is not the district's fault. The educators, the children, the parents are all trying to deal with this unknown technology," Lara Cadena said. "We now spend twice as long trying to turn in the work as we do actually learning."
If working women continue to suffer losses, the current recession could mark a long-term setback. Just as the Great Recession forced older men into early retirement, this recession could be a setback for women with children, said Diane Lim, an economist and adjunct professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"I can imagine a lot of working moms not being able to effectively keep working while their school-aged kids are stuck home with them, saying 'Well, I guess I'm a stay-at-home mom now,' " Lim said. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.