By Mallory Moench San Francisco Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Mallory Moench reports, "National data shows more women than men lost jobs as the economy shut down, dropped out of the workforce voluntarily, and took on more child care responsibilities."
Noelle Chard never envisioned herself as a stay-at-home mom, but the coronavirus pandemic made it a reality.
The certified public accountant and mother of three had struggled through the spring, working from home while also helping with distance learning for her two sons, 8 and 11, and caring for her 3-year-old daughter.
But when her kids' San Mateo school district announced it would start virtually this fall, Chard knew something had to give.
So she quit her job.
It was simply "too much to handle," she said. Her husband shares the workload and was open to staying home, she added, but he earns more and his job provides the family health insurance.
"It's just an impossible situation for both of us to work and do the schooling with the kids," said Chard, who also took a couple years off after her third child. "It's just not going to work out and hopefully I can go back when this is all over."
As schools start remotely across the Bay Area, working parents are under inordinate pressure. Although some dads have stepped up to care more for kids, mothers are disproportionately bearing the responsibility for child care, and their careers are more likely to suffer collateral damage in the pandemic economy, experts say. National data show more women than men lost jobs as the economy shut down, dropped out of the workforce voluntarily, and took on more child care responsibilities.
Child care is a lifeline for most working parents, but costs sometimes rival rent and public college education in California. Even if cost is no object, finding care has become even more competitive, with spots cut and some providers closing due to financial stress. Those factors make it hardest for low-income and single mothers, who have no choice but to work while also struggling to find affordable child care.
"Working mothers are on the front lines of sacrifice here," said Danika Dellor, director of the Women's Achievement Network and Development Alliance, a nonprofit that supports low-income single mothers. "It's taken long enough to get some equitable treatment and jobs and pay and yet there still is a disproportionate level of responsibility that falls on the mom," said Dellor, a married mother of two in Los Altos.
Women have been hit by higher rates of unemployment than men during the pandemic and are more likely to work essential jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mothers with young children scaled back their work hours four to five times more than fathers between March and April, a national study reported. Moms also added extra household and child care responsibilities, now averaging 15 hours more a week than men, a survey of parents in the U.S. and four other countries revealed.
"Women's careers have been disproportionately hit by COVID-19," UC Berkeley economist Sydnee Caldwell said. "As the COVID crisis goes on, we are likely to see problems as couples have to coordinate both work and child care responsibilities."
Dads have stepped up during the pandemic, with those in heterosexual, college-educated relationships bearing a higher fraction of child care hours in April, Harvard economist Claudia Goldin calculated. But she predicted, as the economy reopens and schools return remotely, the father is more likely to go back to work full-time and mothers' child care responsibilities will increase.
"The bottom line is that there are going to be no net gains for women," Goldin said in a July lecture. "Women's careers by and large will probably be set back."
Pressures have already led a parent in one in three families surveyed by benefits company Cleo in June to either leave the workforce or drop down to part-time. In 70% of those cases, it was the mother. For many, this choice might be purely economic: On average nationally, women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes, with the lowest rates for Black women (62 cents), Native Americans (57) and Latinas (54).
Amourence Lee, a San Mateo councilwoman and mother of two school-age kids, said some women are facing the "false choice" of supporting her family and pursuing her career with schools out.
"You literally can't do both. It's a mission impossible," Lee said. "It's exponentially worse because of the lack of child care."
During the pandemic, Lee has sometimes put in 13-hour days while her husband also works full-time and the kids learn at home. She said she's often the go-to parent. Once she tried attending a virtual council meeting at home, but after her son interrupted to ask for a scrap of paper, she started going to City Hall to tune in and putting her husband on full-time duty. "All of us working parents are feeling the grind," her husband, Rich Lin, said. "I'm also seeing the ways it's always been harder on (my wife) and trying to rebalance our division of parenting responsibilities to support her work in the community. It means we eat a lot of takeout and the kids are doing more chores, too."
Lin said there's a double standard when some people say his wife should put aside work for her kids, while no one asks him to sacrifice his career. "There's too much at stake and we can't allow ourselves to go backwards," he said.
While some moms such as Chard acknowledged they're grateful for financial freedom to stop work if they need to, others have no choice. Eva Orbuch, a community organizer with the nonprofit Innovate Public Schools organization, said low-income parents have been left with sparse child care options.
Redwood City housekeeper Andrea Hernandez takes her daughter, 2, to day care and sends her son, 10, to stay with her sister-in-law during the week because she has to work and can't help him with distance learning since she's not fluent in English.
"It was really hard," said Hernandez, who is involved with Innovate. "I feel like we're equal, my partner is working, but there's always a bit of extra pressure on a mom to take care of the kid and drop them off places and deal with everything."
It can be even harder for single mothers. Jacqueline Reyes, a single mom in San Francisco also involved in Innovate, was laid off in March. She's been looking for work, but schedules conflict with caring for her two kids, and Reyes wasn't able to keep her daughter's day care spot since the center limited numbers.
"I feel nervous because if the kids are at home, I can't work," Reyes said. "If I work, the kids don't learn. I need to work for money. I'm worried about the kids not getting enough support with school."
Reyes wanted to see the city provide and fund more child care. San Francisco will open up free learning hubs in the fall to support distance learning, prioritizing low-income families, children in public housing or the foster care system, and homeless youth.
Other government services, nonprofits, and companies are scrambling to support working parents. Coalitions in Alameda, Santa Clara, and Contra Costa counties are helping essential workers find child care spots. San Mateo County earmarked $2 million in grants to keep early childhood child care providers afloat. The city of San Mateo's Parks and Recreation Department is offering a distance learning program at a fraction of market-rate child care costs, with subsidies available for low-income families. Leslie Alfaro, a policy associate with the Bay Area Council, said employers are trying to provide flexible working hours or stipends that could be used for child care.