When the schools closed in March, my wife, Liz, and I did some scrambling. For a very short period of time, we had to figure out what to do with our kids while we continued to go to work every day. Our brief, but intense, planning all went for naught when the kids “attending” school virtually was followed closely by us working from home as well.
At the time, we thought that was going to be the difficult part of the year. We were wrong. When school restarted this fall, our three children began in a hybrid model, attending in-person school just two days per week, and that made us the lucky ones! Many schools opted to remain virtual and some have stayed that way. Thanks to the flexibility of my job, I was (and am) able to work from home on their virtual days while Liz goes to her library.
Unfortunately, the options we have are not available to everyone, leading to what is becoming a massive problem in the country. The number of women who have left the workforce this year is staggering. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Non-Farm Payroll report released on November 6, 2020, there are more than 4.5 million fewer women over the age of 20 employed than just one year ago. Nearly three million are classified as not being in the labor force, meaning they are not employed nor are they currently looking for a job.
Certainly, there are a variety of reasons why someone may leave the labor force, including retirement. It is suspected, however, that many of the women out of the job market this year are moms who are home with their children, either by choice or lack thereof.
While fewer women working will cause immediate economic pain for families, it pales in comparison to the long-lasting ramifications for those families. Individually, a woman who leaves the workforce, even temporarily, will most likely have a different career trajectory, falling behind in promotions and raises. Financially, even a small interruption in retirement savings can have a big impact. There are potentially a myriad of other social and emotional impacts as well, as can happen when a household become reliant on one breadwinner.
Women withdrawing from the labor market is bad for businesses as well. Having women as integral members of a company, whether as a key part of the workforce or in the boardroom, has been shown to be beneficial to both employees and shareholders. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, women have a “vast and meaningful impact on a company’s culture. They are more likely than senior-level men to embrace employee-friendly policies and programs and to champion racial and gender diversity.” The same report shows that “company profits and share performance can be close to 50 percent higher when women are well represented at the top.” Without being in the workforce, reaching those levels inside an organization is nearly impossible.While Liz and I have found what works for us, I realize every family situation is unique. I don’t have a broader solution, but I do know that this is a massive issue that needs a great deal of thought and action starting yesterday. As the effects of COVID worsen heading into the winter months, the potential is there for more schools to close, resulting in more moms leaving their jobs and long-lasting negative impacts for families, the economy, and the country as a whole.