Child care or a job: Professional women face a tough choice in the pandemic
It’s being called the “she-session,” the “mom penalty” and the “mom-demic.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of women in the workplace has dropped by 1.8 million since the start of the pandemic, with the number of women working hitting its lowest level since 1988.
The reasons include a lack of child care, including changes in policies at those facilities, and increased fees.
“Apparently we lost about 50% of the slots in the North Bay, and they have not come back to any degree,” said Cynthia Murray, president and CEO at North Bay Leadership Council. “And those coming back are at a higher cost. Even if you can find a slot, you may not be able to afford it.”
North Bay child care quandary
Back in 2020, when school was supposed to start in September, 863,000 women left the workforce. Men did, too, but only 168,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The choice to walk away because of child care needs and the disproportionate loss of jobs was more predominately female than male,” Robert Eyler, an economist at Sonoma State University, said of decisions being made in the wake of the pandemic.
Melissa Parker, 27, of San Rafael didn’t have the choice to stay unemployed. The single mother was determined to work in order to care for her 3-year-old daughter, Katalina Jaraillo.
Pre-COVID Parker was a self-described entry level worker at an accounting firm. Even though she had been there two years, the company laid off everyone except the higher ups.
She said she was suddenly out of work and without a day care because it temporarily closed at the onset of the pandemic. When the center first reopened only children of essential workers were accepted; Parker didn’t qualify.
She adapted, but said it was awkward at times having to interview for jobs virtually when her toddler could be seen standing behind her.
Parker now works for a plumbing company. However, in October she used up all of her sick time to stay home when Katalina was ill. Even though she is at the same day care facility in her hometown, it changed the rules by not accepting any sick kids, even if it’s just a cold.
“My daughter is asthmatic, so whenever she gets sick her asthma gets way worse. Before COVID I could drop her off, leave her with her medication that they would give her. She could go with a cough or runny nose,” Parker told the Business Journal.
Even with vaccines for more children expected to soon, it’s anyone’s guess if the “no sick child” rule will be permanent or if infants and toddlers will be allowed to be inoculated against this virus.
More rigid rules have consequences. It means parents unable to go to work. It means employers coping with fewer workers on any given day.
Parker’s job requires her to be at the office and she can’t leave a toddler home alone.
Working part time isn’t an option for most people. Besides the loss of income, it can mean losing an employer’s health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid time off, as well at the potential of not advancing in their career.
“Women with children under age 6, who made up 10% of the pre-pandemic workforce, account for almost a quarter of the unanticipated employment loss related to COVID-19,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Policy Hub reported in September. “This research, along with supporting evidence, suggests that daycare limitations, rather than school closings, appear to be a constraining factor on the availability of workers to fill open positions in the current economy.”
Cost of doing business
Marin County, where Parker lives, has some of the highest costs of day care in the Bay Area, according to Aideen Gaidmore, executive director of Marin Child Care Council based in San Rafael. The average price for full-time infant care in the county is $2,000 a month, with $3,600 the highest. It costs about $2,600 for preschoolers, and $700 a month for after school care.
Pre-pandemic the organization had 5,588 child care slots. In March this year that number was 3,327.
“We give referrals for child care to people. Ninety percent of the calls we get for child care are the women calling for child care, not men,” Gaidmore said. “We are seeing they are the ones not able to work because they are not able to find child care.”
Parents may pay a hefty price for child care, but statistics show the workers, mostly women, don’t make much money.
“Our community really needs more (child care) teachers. Unfortunately, more people are leaving the field than coming in. A lot of it is wages. They don’t make enough money for a community where it’s expensive to live like Napa,” said Erika Lubensky, executive director of Community Resources for Children in Napa.