From U.S. Census Bureau
Around 10 million U.S. mothers living with their own school-age children were not actively working in January—1.4 million more than during the same month last year, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.
The pandemic has had a devastating effect on employment overall but especially on mothers’ paid labor. The 10 million not working accounted for over one-third of all mothers living with school-age children in the United States, according to the Current Population Survey.
Last spring, between March and April, some 3.5 million mothers living with school-age children left active work — either shifting into paid or unpaid leave, losing their job, or exiting the labor market all together.
Some 45 percent of mothers of school-age children were not actively working last April.
The school year began in earnest months ago but deep into the academic year, school systems are still trying to figure out how and when to return to in-person classes.
Some have found ways to juggle work, child care and virtual schooling. By January 2021, more than 18.5 million mothers living with their own school-age children were actively working — still 1.6 million fewer than in January 2020.
While the recovery has stalled, employment of mothers has all but caught up to fathers in term of pre-pandemic patterns.
By January 2021, mothers’ active work status was 6.4 percentage points lower than in January 2020 and fathers’ active work status was 5.9 points lower, narrowing the initial gender gap of 6.4 points in April to 0.5 points in January.
Media reports say moms have been hit harder than fathers. But are they true?
In a word, yes—at least initially, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
At the onset of the pandemic, the share of mothers actively working decreased more than fathers. Mothers declined 21.1 percentage points while the share of fathers dropped 14.7 points in April 2020 compared to the previous month and to the same month the previous year.
The two most cited reasons are:
• Mothers are more likely to work in service and other jobs heavily impacted by pandemic closures.
• Mothers carry a heavier burden, on average, of unpaid domestic household chores and child care, which, during a pandemic that draws everyone into the home, disrupts parents’ ability to actively work for pay.
Their work patterns went through similar down-and-up cycles even before the pandemic. Many take leave or stop work during the summer months and take interim breaks when children are not in school every year.
Even in January 2021, an additional 210,000 mothers were on paid or unpaid leave compared to the same month the prior year. Similar to the pattern for all workers, unemployment spiked for mothers in the spring, increasing by more than threefold its pre-pandemic rate.
The unemployment rate for mothers living with their own school-age children was 13.9 percent by April 2020. It was cut more than half to 6 percent in January 2021.
Despite that decline, the Bureau said there were some 1.2 million more mothers unemployed compared to the same month the previous year, when mothers’ unemployment rate was just 3.5 percent.
Many moms have given up and left the workforce since the pandemic hit: nearly three-quarters of a million (705,000) more have given up on work outside the home entirely and some may not return, the study said.
Those who do resume work may experience decreased total lifetime earnings due to dropping out or being forced out during the pandemic.
Many children who have gone back to school often only attend in person two or three days a week. Even if they are back fulltime, one case of COVID-19 in a classroom can shutter it for a week at a time. These challenges make it difficult for mothers to hold a steady job, especially one that does not allow remote work.
From an economic perspective, mothers of school-age children who have the option may exit the labor market for now. Those who live alone or can’t rely on income of other adults in the household may continue to work (if work is available) — even if that means working outside of their home (non-telework jobs) and leaving children home alone.
Living with another working-age adult (age 18-64) does not seem to have spared mothers from doing double duty: Working for pay and working for no pay taking care of children and housekeeping.