Mothers Are Being Left Behind in America’s Economic Recovery from COVID-19

In a recent paper for Brookings, Lauren Bauer shed light on the fact mothers are being left behind in America’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

In 10 Economic Facts on How Mothers Spend Their Time, Bauer outlines that in times of crisis and absent a care infrastructure to support those with the highest caregiving responsibilities—mothers with children under five and unmarried mothers—will leave the labor force to care for their children, will struggle to come back, and will cope with a lifetime of consequences.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, not everyone had the opportunity or flexibility to care for their children and keep their job, not everyone had a spouse or partner with whom one could share caregiving burdens, not everyone has an employer or job responsibilities that allow for juggling, not everyone could make ends meet. As of March 2021, mothers are lagging behind fathers in returning to pre-pandemic Labor Force Participation Rates (LFPR) and are experiencing material hardship as measured by food insecurity.

The pandemic has widened labor force participation gaps between mothers and fathers. The LFPR of mothers overall was about 3.5 percentage points lower in March 2021 than in January 2020 while fathers’ LFPR was down 1 percentage point.

Moreover, the age of the children in the household contributes to differences in labor force participation rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. While LFPRs of mothers whose youngest child is a teenager have rebounded to about 1.5 percentage points below its January 2020 level, mothers whose youngest children is under 13 are more than 4 percentage points below. Mothers with children under six years old were most likely to report having a serious conversation about leaving their job or reducing their hours due to child-care challenges and/or finding it very difficult to balance work and family responsibilities.

As the United States exits the acute COVID-19 crisis, long-run trouble finding affordable child-care slots, child-care workers experiencing high levels of job loss, and the diminished supply of child care slots will hold some mothers back. This analysis shows that absent a care infrastructure to support those with the highest caregiving responsibilities — mothers with children under five and unmarried mothers — in times of crisis, many will leave the labor force to care for their children, will struggle to come back, and will cope with a lifetime of consequences.

The Hamilton Project released two new policy proposals relevant to support women’s labor force participation on May 12:

Also on May 12, The Hamilton Project held an event that offered solutions to support women in the labor market, “Rethinking the economics of child care and paid leave: Policies to protect workers and families.”