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Moms are reducing work hours 4-5 times more than dads during pandemic

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A mom helps her two daughters with schoolwork during the pandemic in New York.

A mom helps her two daughters with schoolwork during the pandemic in New York. John Moore/Getty Images

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This week the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country, announced it won’t be bringing students back on campus in the fall. San Diego’s school district to the south has said the same — all classes will remain online, leaving millions of parents continuing to juggle home schooling with full-time work.

It’s a dilemma school districts throughout the country are facing as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in many areas. While many households now have two parents working from home, emerging evidence confirms that mothers are bearing the brunt of child care duties during the pandemic.

From her New Jersey house, Keren Sachs runs her startup, The Luupe, which helps commercial photographers who are women find gigs. But she spends a lot of her day now trying to escape her two young boys.

“I’m hiding in a room in my house hoping that my children do not come and find me,” she told us when we reached her by video chat.

Though her husband is also working from home, only mommy will do when the kids are hungry, hurt or fighting.

“It’s me who they come to, it’s my door that they open,” she said.

Like many moms, she’s been left with fewer hours and less energy to focus on her own work. 

A new analysis of federal data co-authored by Caitlyn Collins at Washington University in St. Louis finds mothers have scaled back their work hours during the pandemic four to five times more than fathers in heterosexual households where both parents are working from home. 

“So it really is in these everyday small interactions that we see gender inequality playing out in the labor force,” said Collins, noting women could be more vulnerable to layoffs, less likely to be promoted and paid less than male or childless peers.

Another study published this week found unequal outcomes in how the pandemic affected scientist’s research, with women and particularly women with young children experiencing among the most severe disruptions to their work.

“It certainly seems like child care is at the top of the list of constraints right now that needs to be sorted out,” said co-author Kyle R. Myers, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

Brigid Schulte, the author of “Overwhelmed” and director of The Better Life Lab at the New America think tank, said moms have long shouldered the bulk of unpaid labor at home, even as the majority work full time. That often leads to a vicious cycle of pursuing less-demanding careers, receiving lower pay and then continuing to sacrifice work to accommodate a higher-earning spouse.

“Because if that earner loses benefits, or loses pay, or loses their job, you don’t have much of a safety net,” she said.

It’s just one more way the pandemic has turned out to be less the great leveler and more the great amplifier of existing inequities.

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