Clarisha Dumas. Shanita Matthews. Hannah Lidman. These are just a few of the moms who have left the workforce since the pandemic upended their lives last year. One was laid off, one folded her business and one resigned. All have spent the past year helping their children with virtual learning.
They make up a fraction of the 10 million moms with school-age children who were not actively working in January—an astounding 1.4 million more than during the same month last year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The data confirms what a litany of surveys and academic studies have already suggested: the COVID-19 crisis has hit working moms harder than working dads. That was particularly true at the onset of the pandemic; in April, nearly half of moms of school-age children were not actively working and that share of mothers working dropped 21.1 percentage points compared to the same month the previous year. The share of fathers working also dropped, but by a smaller amount: 14.7 percentage points.
That’s because, in many households, moms are the ones shouldering the bulk of the drastically increased domestic workload.
There is a glimmer of hope in the numbers, however. By January 2020, moms’ employment had almost caught up to dads’. “By January 2021, mothers’ active work status was 6.4 percentage points lower than in January 2020 and fathers’ active work status was 5.9 points lower, narrowing the initial gender gap of 6.4 points in April to 0.5 points in January,” an article about the data reads.
So does this mean working moms are all good now? Not quite. As the article notes, since the start of the crisis, 705,000 moms have given up on work outside the home and left the workforce. Many of them might never return.
And for moms who want to resume work once schools safely reopen, it might be challenging to find a position at the same title and pay.
“For any of these mothers, leaving even temporarily for childbirth or during the pandemic to care for children reduces not only their earnings today but their potential earnings tomorrow and into the future,” the article states. “As the pandemic drags on, these negative effects on the total lifetime earnings of mothers of school age children will increase. This, in turn, may exacerbate gender inequalities in the workforce.”
What employers do next will play a big role in determining how the pandemic ultimately impacts working moms. When hiring, they must be willing to consider job candidates with a resume gap. And continuing to offer remote work and flexible schedules will go a long way toward encouraging parents to take a chance on paid work again.