Post-Pandemic Parenting: Moms Call for Affordable Child Care and New Jobs
Early in the pandemic, Allison Cross was working in her kitchen, tuning into a work meeting with 50 colleagues while keeping an eye on her two children, when her son decided to treat the back of the couch like a tightrope. Terrified he would hurt himself, Cross shouted at him in an uncharacteristic outburst.
Seconds later, she realized she was most definitely not on mute.
“I don’t like working from home, and I definitely don’t like working from home with kids,” says Cross.
She’s one of millions of moms who have had their working lives upended by the pandemic. In Canada, 12 times more mothers than fathers left their jobs to care for their children over the past year, according to a Royal Bank of Canada report. And American millennial moms were three times more likely than dads to report being unable to work due to school or childcare closures, according to a Center for American Progress report.
The effect has been even more harshly felt by Black and Latina Americans, and by visible minority and new immigrant women in Canada.
“Women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and job losses because they were overrepresented in the hardest-hit sectors when stay-at-home orders were implemented: service, leisure, hospitality, education,” says C. Nicole Mason, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Mason notes that the unemployment rate for white American women is 5.4 percent, while it’s 9.2 percent for Black women and 8.8 percent for Latinas—higher than the nation’s 8 percent unemployment rate during 2008’s Great Recession.
The Child Care Conundrum
Fully funding child care and safely reopening schools will be key to allowing mothers to get back to work. Mason says she and her 11-year-old twins struggled when they started online schooling while she was working full-time from home.
“A year later, we still have some of the same struggles,” she says. “For women who have exited the workforce, thinking about re-entering the workforce, finding a job, sustaining employment is really hard… Without the predictability of school or daycare, it’s really a tough thing to figure out.”
Cross’s children, now three and five years old, were home for three months before local daycares reopened. She says she and her husband spent about $34,000 (CAD)—one-third of their income—on child care in 2020, something she understands many families aren’t able to do.
“I think it’s absolutely a legitimate choice to stay home with your kids, raise your kids before they enter school or forever—it’s up to you,” Cross says. “But if you’re only opting out of work because child care is exorbitantly expensive or the only child care you can find is unsafe or unreliable, then it’s not a true choice…”
“I could have saved for my kids’ university tuition at this point,” Cross says.
Among daycares that have reopened, remaining profitable is a challenge. The National Association for the Education of Young Children found that 56 percent of child care centers are losing money every day that they’re open and many of their employees rely on public benefits to make ends meet.
It’s an area that’s overdue for government intervention. “If this happened and men were called to go home to educate their children, you would be sure that the government would have stepped up and built the laws, policies, and supports to keep men at work or to keep men employed so that they [could] both educate their kids and work,” says Hilary Berger, the founder behind Work Like a Mother.
Policy and Post-Pandemic Parenting
Funding child care will be part of the economic recovery for mothers, but it’s not the only consideration, says Carrie Freestone, an economist for RBC. Many of the jobs lost by women may not exist anymore, phased out due to a digital shift and new consumer habits like online shopping.
“Obviously child care is really important,” says Freestone, “but if people don’t have jobs to go back to, then it doesn’t matter if they have child care.”
In Canada, the gap between mothers’ and fathers’ participation in work is considerable—much wider than the gap between men and women who aren’t parents—and it costs the economy $100 billion a year, says Freestone.
“We’re not going to be able to boost women’s participation and recoup that $100 billion in lost output without including mothers, and I think it’s really important to have policy targeted to that group in particular,” she says.
The Canadian government has earmarked $1.5 billion for retraining and has convened a task force on women in the economy. The recently announced federal budget also commits $30 billion over five years to establish a national child care plan.
Meanwhile, Mason is optimistic that initiatives like the U.S. federal government’s coronavirus relief bill, which includes $10 billion for child care, can help. She says the United States, which outspends only Ireland and Turkey in child care, has “only one way to go and it’s up because we’re so far behind.”
Zoey Duncan is a writer and book editor based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Find her at zoeywrites.com.