As women return to work, remote work could lock in gains

Lily Stateline coverage of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic “secession” is fading as more women return to work across the country, aided by new workplace flexibility that could stall future increases in female employment.

Remote working, an easing of constraints from 9 to 5 working days and scalable ideas such as “returns” to help women resume their careers after prolonged absences, all of which could facilitate the employment of women, in particular those who have children.

Women’s employment gains have exceeded those of men for six of the past eight months, according to a Stateline analysis of federal statistics up to March of this year. Data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey provided by the University of Minnesota.

The number of women in employment is higher today than at any time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, although it is still below pre-pandemic levels. In the first months of the pandemic, women lost 1.7 million more jobs than men.

Women have already caught up to their pre-pandemic employment levels in New England and the West Coast, where there is a high proportion of white-collar jobs in the knowledge economy and in technology that can be performed remotely. The ability to work from home is particularly welcome for women raising families or caring for older relatives.

Women’s employment is lagging furthest in the Midwest, where many manufacturing jobs cannot be done remotely. In this region, women hold almost 800,000 fewer jobs than before the pandemic, according to the Stateline analysis. Meanwhile, in the West Coast region (which includes Alaska and Hawaii), there are more than 400,000 more women working in March compared to February 2020.

However, mothers of young children still lag behind fathers when it comes to returning to work nationwide, according to the Stateline analysis.

There are about 250,000 working mothers of young children than before the pandemic, compared to about 190,000 fewer fathers. More than 90% of fathers of young children are employed, a full recovery from before the pandemic. Mothers, however, still lag almost 2 points behind their own pre-pandemic employment rate, at 68.6%.

Debra Lancaster, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said state governments “can and should set an example for the private sector” by providing flexibility to their employees.

According to an April report co-authored by Lancaster, more than one in five households in New Jersey faced lapses in child care last year, forcing parents to watch their children while they were working or quitting their job. But New Jersey’s new telework policy for state employees, announced in April by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, still requires parents to use paid or unpaid time off if they need to watch children during working hours. planned remote work.

History of the Stateline

Working parents face continued chaos despite schools reopening

In Hawaii, lawmakers are considering a plan to subsidize child care wages to address worker shortages, said Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the state’s Commission on the Status of Women. Nationally, there are 150,000 fewer child care workers than before the pandemic, according to the Stateline analysis.

Last year, another bill in Hawaii sought to prohibit employees from using their childcare responsibilities to justify remote work, Jabola-Carolus said. The bill has been delayed due to criticism from the state employees union, which insists that legislation changing working conditions should be part of collective bargaining.

That leaves Hawaii state employees in limbo, able to stay home for childcare only if their supervisors agree, under pandemic emergency rules. Jabola-Carolus, who has two young children of her own, said she was lucky to have an understanding boss, but not all employees were so lucky.

“I spent nearly a year looking for daycare for my youngest, and had to send my other son away from the ocean to stay with my mom in California for a while. It really hurt, the family separation,” Jabola-Carolus said. Her frustrations with pandemic working conditions, expressed in an autoresponder to her work email in the summer of 2020 that went viral after she shared it on Instagram, have become a rallying cry for pandemic mothers.

“I hope to reply to your message soon,” she wrote in the post, which has since been deleted. “Like many women, I work full time while caring for an infant and toddler full time.” She noted that “the average length of an uninterrupted work shift for parents during COVID-19 was three minutes and 24 seconds.”

Utah has the highest proportion of children in the country, about 29% of its population in 2020. It has the first state-sponsored “comeback” program to help women return to work after an absence, usually to take care of young children. .

“What we’re seeing is that while women have left the workforce in droves due to the pandemic, a lot of our returns are coming back not due to the end of the pandemic, but due to the end of the pandemic. inflation and rising costs,” said Shay Baker, program manager for the Utah Return Program. “Staying at home with families is more difficult than before.”

Returns are a form of mid-career internships that began in the late 2000s at financial services firms to bring more women into leadership roles, despite gaps in their resumes since education children or the career move of a spouse, said Carol Fishman. Cohen, a consultant who helps design the programs.

More companies are revamping their comeback programs to help with pandemic career disruptions, including Goldman Sachs in October, T-Mobile in November and PepsiCo this month. Some are reducing the time away required, typically two years, to accommodate shorter pandemic disruptions, and offering faster pathways to employment and more remote work for parents who still have to stay home. home.

History of the Stateline

Mothers are 3 times more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs during the pandemic

Women who are mothers of young children have been particularly hard hit, with school closures at the start of the pandemic forcing them to take on more childcare duties and helping toddlers learn from a distance. Even when schools reopened, there were unpredictable quarantines during outbreaks that made it harder for parents to work.

The types of jobs women hold now have changed from before the pandemic. There are 1.3 million fewer jobs for them as administrative assistants, waitresses, retail clerks, practical nurses and childcare workers, while the gains are in areas such as mail order, warehouses and steeds that thrive in remote conditions.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing big renegotiations, including more women in better-paying, full-time jobs in male-dominated fields like warehousing and transportation,” said Ariane Hegewisch, Director of the Employment and Income Program at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. in Washington, D.C.

“Nursing and child care jobs are notably missing from the recovery,” Hegewisch said. “Unless these [jobs] have also become rewarding jobs, the recovery will remain very partial for women.

Stephanie Aaronson, labor economist and director of the economic studies program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said it’s too early to tell whether the job recovery for women will continue, but it doesn’t look like more to the “shecession” than it once was. called.

“At this point, women aren’t particularly trailing men in the recovery anymore,” Aaronson said. “There’s not a huge difference now in how men and women are doing.”

But the fact that mothers and fathers still fare differently is a sign that societal norms as well as policies must change if men and women are to have equal access to employment in the future, according to a discussion paper released last year by Massachusetts. based at the National Bureau of Economic Research and co-authored by Titan Alon, assistant professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego.

“The pandemic is likely to bring about changes in the post-pandemic workplace that open the possibility of a significant reduction in gender inequalities in the labor market,” the paper concludes.

“But for this potential to be realized, changes in the workplace are not enough; there must also be a change in social norms and expectations that lead mothers and fathers to make more equal use of the extra flexibility.

History of the Stateline

Federal aid supports child care. It’s not a long-term solution.

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