Work­ing moms, not dads, more likely to quit as pan­demic lingers

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - BY JOYCE MISRA Joyce Misra is Pro­fes­sor of So­ci­ol­ogy & Pub­lic Pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts Amherst. This ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished on The Con­ver­sa­tion.

Mil­lions of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies are find­ing them­selves in a jam, with their jobs re­quir­ing them to re­turn to work on site and plans from their local school dis­tricts call­ing for chil­dren to spend less time in class­rooms. At the same time, child care is be­com­ing less avail­able and, in many cases, more costly.

Many work­ing par­ents with young or school-age chil­dren may have to quit their job to stay home as the COVID-19 pan­demic drags on. As a so­ci­ol­o­gist who stud­ies par­ent­hood, gen­der and la­bor mar­ket in­equal­ity, I ex­pect that more women than men will leave their jobs.

In 2019 — be­fore this new dis­ease up­ended life as we know it — 72% of all U.S. women with chil­dren un­der 18 were work­ing or look­ing for work, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics. The sit­u­a­tion was very sim­i­lar for moth­ers with spouses and those with­out them: 70% vs. 77%. With nearly all mar­ried fathers em­ployed or look­ing for work, in 64% of fam­i­lies with two par­ents, both were bread­win­ners.

Dis­tance learn­ing

Most school sys­tems switched to dis­tance-learn­ing mod­els in the fi­nal months of the 2019-2020 school year be­cause of COVID-19 con­cerns.

Ten­ta­tive plans for an adapted 2020-21 school-year sched­ule gen­er­ally in­clude mea­sures to re­duce COVID-19 risks. Th­ese pro­pos­als aim to make it eas­ier for stu­dents, ed­u­ca­tors and other staff to con­stantly stay sev­eral feet apart from one an­other while meet­ing as many needs as pos­si­ble for a wide range of kids.

Most of the plans I’ve re­viewed so far, whether in Ok­la­homa, Wis­con­sin, Cal­i­for­nia or else­where, com­bine in-per­son and dis­tance school­ing.

I’m lucky that my chil­dren are old enough to be able to learn rel­a­tively in­de­pen­dently. One is en­ter­ing high school and the other will soon be a col­lege fresh­man. My hus­band and

I also have univer­sity jobs that al­low us to tele­work at least part of the time. But not all par­ents have this kind of flex­i­bil­ity. I have col­leagues look­ing into en­rolling their chil­dren in pri­vate schools out of con­cern about pro­posed stu­dent sched­ules in our western Mas­sachusetts com­mu­nity.

The abil­ity to tele­work makes it at least fea­si­ble to keep an eye on chil­dren on week­days. This is an op­tion for only 43% of all work­ers, with the col­lege-ed­u­cated more able than others to take ad­van­tage of it. Even full-time tele­work­ing par­ents find it hard to have their kids at home when they need to be avail­able around the clock for feed­ing, car­ing for and help­ing their chil­dren learn.

Day care

Th­ese is­sues are more chal­leng­ing for par­ents of ba­bies and very young chil­dren, who need even more at­ten­tion, partly be­cause spa­ces in child care cen­ters were al­ready hard to come by. Be­fore the pan­demic, U.S. fam­i­lies al­ready strug­gled with child care costs. Adapt­ing child care for so­cial dis­tanc­ing means that la­bor and over­head costs for child care providers are ris­ing as par­ents’ earn­ings are gen­er­ally stag­nant or fall­ing.

What I haven’t yet seen is any ex­pla­na­tion of how work­ing par­ents might en­sure that their chil­dren are OK at home, while they also need to hold down a job that re­quires their pres­ence else­where. There’s no easy an­swer to this ques­tion: Are par­ents more neg­li­gent if they leave their chil­dren to go to work, or if they lose their job and can­not af­ford to feed, clothe and shel­ter their kids?

Even once a vac­cine is dis­cov­ered, I be­lieve the U.S. ur­gently needs to trans­form its child care and ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems to bet­ter rec­og­nize the cen­tral role they play in an econ­omy that re­lies so heav­ily on work­ing par­ents.

A child care cen­ter worker in Win­ston-Salem, N.C., takes a child’s tem­per­a­ture dur­ing check-in as her mother drops her off.

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