MIAMI, Fla. – Parents, especially women in the workforce, are leaving their jobs or taking extended sabatticals. According to the United States Census Department, one in five working-age adults said they are not working right now because COVID-19 has disrupted child-care arrangements.
Cathy Clark Reyes is one of those people. “As a woman I have worked all my life, let’s start with that. I don’t know what it is like to not work,” said the mother of three girls.
Clark Reyes, a dietitian, said she tried to work from home while managing her daughters’ education needs when schools closed last March.
“That was chaotic. It just didn’t work. I felt like I had to be on top of them. I couldn’t do that when I had patients on Telehealth,” she said.
So, when schools decided to reopen online, Clark Reyes made the decision to stay home, temporarily walking away from a more than 20-year career.
“Right now, I am a hall monitor and cafeteria lady,” she joked. “I make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Then, of course, there are the meals.” She said she is looking at her break from work “like a sabbatical.”
“This is a huge gender setback.” I spoke with #economist @DianeSwonk about the #labormarket + #economic + #genderequity impacts of schools choosing to reopen #online. #SoundOn ▶️ 1/2 pic.twitter.com/sKUJC1thWC— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) September 3, 2020
Her mother, Lourdes, used to help, but that was sidelined for safety reasons given that she is in the higher risk group of contracting COVID-19.
“She was my main support,” Clark Reyes said, “but she is not able to be here because she’s older.”
Diane Swonk, a chief economist at audit, tax and advisory firm Grant Thornton, said that the statistics show the majority of those stepping away from work are women.
“This is a huge gender setback,” Swonk said. “One of the things we are worried about is how that changes not only the dimensions of a family and their earning capacity but also the trajectory in the labor force more broadly.”
How does this all impact the local economy? Parents leaving the labor market to absorb at-home demands of distance learning impacts their household disposable income, which means less money to shop and dine, which, in turn, impacts economic recovery.
Clark Reyes wants to get back to her career.
“I am hoping once life gets back to normal, I can pick up back on work.”
According to Census.gov:
- Around one in five (18.2%) of working-age adults said the reason they were not working was because COVID-19 disrupted their childcare arrangements.
- Of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands.
- As the weeks wore on, the percent of mothers age 25 to 44 not working due to COVID-19 related childcare issues grew by 4.7 percentage points, compared to no increase for similar men.