A child care shortage is making it difficult for many mothers to return to full-time work
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The labor force participation rate is not back to pre-pandemic levels yet. Parents of young children have faced particular challenges returning to full-time work. That’s especially true of mothers, mostly because caregiving responsibilities continue to weigh more heavily on them.
It’s the ability to find, and afford, scarce child care slots that ends up being crucial for many families in deciding who can return to work, and how much they can take on.
Amanda Brinkman is a product designer for a software company in Indianapolis, with a 2 and a 10-year-old. Her husband was laid off during the pandemic, and they decided they couldn’t afford child care.
Once he got a full-time job again, they figured they could pay the $1,200 — barely.
“We make a little bit more — we have some take-home pay after child care costs. But obviously child care is a lot. It’s a big chunk of that,” she said.
Both of them can work from home, so when one or the other kid is sick, or daycare or school is closed, “I think we’re both lucky that neither of us really have to clock in and out. So yeah, we’ve figured out a good: ‘Oh, we’ll just do the morning-and-afternoon-shift-thing again.’”
Women who care for family members have been more likely than men to stop working for a period since the pandemic hit, or to shift to part-time work.
“So it might be that some of these individuals have decided that they don’t want to return to work now, or yet,” said economist Katherine Lim at the Minneapolis Fed, who has been studying gendered labor-force trends.
When the Los Angeles elementary school where Susan Corvino worked closed its doors early in the pandemic, she shifted to part-time duties from home. Her husband works full-time, and eventually she stopped working altogether to help take care of their middle-schooler and high-schooler.
She’s been looking for a new job for several months now. But, she says, “In a perfect world I wouldn’t want to work full-time.”
She said supporting her family through the illnesses and school-disruptions of the pandemic has made her wary.
“I’m nervous about going back full-time because I know what full-time means. It doesn’t mean 9-to-5 anymore. It means full-time-plus. That gives me a bit of pause, for sure.”
She said her family’s lucky — they saved a lot during the pandemic. So now they can afford to live on less as she plans her next move.
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