Currently over half of elementary to high school aged children are attending school completely online. Many children, especially those in elementary school, need adult supervision to navigate the technologies of online schooling and help them stay focused. With many childcare facilities closed due to COVID-19, families with two working parents are often forced to decide which spouse should leave the workforce to take the role of educating and caring for their children. As a consequence, four times as many women than men dropped out of the workforce in September alone. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Jobs Report, 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce between August and September, compared with 16,000 men.
These numbers can be partially explained by the fact that women are overrepresented in industries that are experiencing the highest job loss, including education, hospitality, and food service. The existing gender gap is another reason that women are disproportionately exiting the workforce. According to the Census Bureau, women are estimated to make 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. Since many women make less than their male counterparts, they are more likely to leave the workforce for the sake of their families’ financial health than men.
The decision to exit the workforce, even temporarily, can have long-term implications on professional and financial goals. According to the Center for American Progress, a short term interruption in wages can create substantial losses far greater than salary loss, including losses from missed wage growth and retirement savings. For example, a 35-year-old woman earning $80,000 a year who leaves the work force for five years can expect to lose $197,000 in retirement assets and benefits, assuming she retires at age 67, according to the Center’s calculator. Upward career mobility can also be affected.
A survey conducted in July by The National Association for the Education of Young Children found that 40% of childcare centers were concerned that they may need to close their doors permanently due to a lack of resources. Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that has no federal law ensuring paid maternity leave. Despite this, there are solutions. A proposed plan from the new federal administration would adjust Social Security’s current benefit formula to award work credit to caretakers. This would allow caretakers to continually compound retirement savings, even when taking a leave from employment. Companies can also help by providing paid paternal leave as well as providing flexibility to employees who double as caretakers.