Struggles of working parents on full display amid pandemic
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Working parents in this country are having a particularly tough time during the coronavirus crisis. With schools shut down in almost every state, more than 50 million kids have been sent home, complicating life for parents working inside or outside the home. And while the situation is extreme, it’s shining a spotlight on the ever-present challenges of balancing work and family in a society with no mandatory family or sick leave, unaffordable child care and an always-on work culture.
For Jessica and Josh Whitt, the boundaries between work and home have completely broken down. Jessica teaches biology at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Josh is a scientist at a biopharmaceutical company.
Their 3-year-old daughter, who’s usually at preschool, has now become their officemate, background music, chief distractor and star of video conferences.
“There are moments where my students see her running in the background, or she’ll come sit on my lap,” Jessica said. “I can hear her: ‘I need Mommy, I want Mommy Mommy!’ “
Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University and author of the parenting books “Cribsheet” and “Expecting Better,” said such scenes have become the norm in her conference calls.
“And it just sort of forces you to be able to say, honestly, something that I would have been very reluctant to before,” she said, “that I’m trying to manage my children and I think we’re going to see a lot of that.”
In the U.S., about three-quarters of mothers and more than 90% of dads work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The challenges of doing both are out in the open like never before, said Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at the New America think tank and author of “Overwhelmed.”
“It’s really showing the illusion that we’ve been living under — this bizarre expectation that if you’re a worker, you’re all in and that’s all you are and that’s all you do. That we don’t have families or that somehow we don’t have these responsibilities,” she said.
The pressure to keep family life out of work is particularly acute for women, said Caitlyn Collins, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Women tend to be penalized for any signal that they are caregivers in the workplace, whereas men tend to receive benefits,” she said. An analysis of census data by the National Women’s Law Center found the wage gap between men and women grows wider when parenthood is taken into account: Mothers are paid 69 cents for every dollar a father makes.
“Women are considered somehow less committed or capable if they are parents, whereas men are seen as more committed and more capable to their jobs as parents,” said Collins.
“It’s frustrating. It’s hard,” Jessica Whitt said. “But I think it is important that if we’re going to have a sustainable workforce, we need a workforce that’s going to work with family life. These issues are human issues.”
Congress has already temporarily extended paid family and sick leave to millions of people, some states are offering free child care to frontline workers and many employers have been forced to be more flexible about when and where the work gets done.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?
Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.
How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?
Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.
How are Americans feeling about their finances?
Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.
Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.
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