Child Care Burdens Linked with Growing Economic and Career Hardships for Women
Chicago: A new survey of more than 1,000 working mothers who were employed in March 2020 finds that child care burdens associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have deepened patterns of economic inequality for women in the workforce, and particularly for working mothers of color. The study was conducted jointly by the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI).
“While working women—and especially working mothers—already faced labor force participation and pay gaps relative to men before COVID-19, survey data makes clear that the pandemic has almost certainly worsened those disparities,” said University of Illinois Senior Instructor and study co-author Alison Dickson, M.U.P.P. “COVID-19 has exposed the urgent need for affordable child care, paid family leave, flexible work arrangements, and other policy interventions to combat the gender-based structural inequities in our economy.”
All told, 1.6 million Illinois workers have at least one child age 13 or younger. Just under 500,000 children, or 24 percent of Illinois’ child care-aged population, participate in day care or a State-recognized family home.
At an average annual cost of $13,800 for infants and $10,400 for four-year-olds, Illinois’ child care costs are the 10th-highest in the nation and rival annual tuition costs at public colleges and universities in the state. Economic data shows that child care burdens have a disproportionate impact on working women, increasing the labor force participation gap relative to men from 3% to 20%, and increasing the wage gap from 17% to 28%.
For this study, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted a survey of 1,030 working mothers between August 20, 2020 and October 27, 2020 who were employed as of March 2020. The survey assessed the overall impact of widespread school and child care closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While participation in the survey was limited to working mothers from households earning $150,000 or less per year, industry and occupational representations reflected the state’s workforce as a whole.
The responses strongly suggest that the pandemic dramatically deepened economic and career hardships for working mothers. Though a recent Northeastern University survey found that 13% of working parents nationally had to resign or reduce their work hours because of child care burdens during the pandemic, the Illinois-specific survey found that nearly 40% of the state’s working mothers lost their jobs or were working fewer hours.
The survey revealed that the economic impacts of pandemic-related school and child care closures were most acute among working mothers of color, with nearly half reporting job losses and more than half reporting income losses.
All told, 83% of working mothers said that their children’s school, child care facility, or summer camp had closed, and nearly four-in-ten (37%) reported helping children with remote learning more than 10 hours per week.
Among those who continued working through the pandemic, a strong majority said they were earning less income because they were working fewer hours, and 60% reported that their job performance suffered. Respondents reported compensating for income losses by delaying rent or mortgage payments (26%), spending less on food (26%), pulling from savings or retirement accounts (23%), delaying medical treatments (18%), and increasing credit card debt (17%).
Illinois’ Working Mothers—In Their Own Words
“Since the pandemic began, I haven’t done any overtime and therefore less money is coming in.“
“I’ve had to greatly reduce my hours because of [the] lack of child care.“
“I feel like I have taken too much time off of work, affecting how my bosses see me as a reliable employee.“
“After accounting for other observable factors, we found that while job losses were not directly attributable to the closing of school and child care facilities, the closures created added burdens for working moms that led to a significant reduction in work hours and earnings,” added ILEPI Policy Director and study co-author Frank Manzo IV, M.P.P. “Equally important, the data clearly links factors such as access to paid leave, flexible scheduling, workplace child care, and union membership with reduced risk of economic suffering from pandemic-related disruptions.”
With these links in mind, researchers recommend a policy framework to better support working mothers that includes safely reopening schools, expanding extracurricular programs before and after school hours, promoting more flexible and predictive scheduling options for workers, enacting a paid family and medical leave law, strengthening the state’s Child Care Assistance Program, and enacting a refundable Child Care Tax Credit.
“In addition to protecting working mothers from the career hardships brought on by the pandemic, research has demonstrated that these policies deliver broad-based economic value to communities,” Manzo added. “For example, an economic impact analysis shows that doubling the Child Care Assistance Program and adding a refundable child care tax credit would mean over $1,000 in annual tax relief for more than 700,000 working families in Illinois, while creating nearly 29,000 jobs and growing the economy by more than $120 million each year.”
“While COVID-19 has led more people to work in new arrangements, it has also accelerated an existing child care crisis that drives gender disparities in workforce participation and income,” concluded University of Illinois Professor, PMCR Director, and study co-author Dr. Robert Bruno, Ph.D. “As more schools and businesses reopen, we must consider a policy framework that promotes greater resilience and equity in the face of future disruptions, by helping more working families balance the competing demands of child care and work.”
The Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization which uses advanced statistics and the latest forecasting models to promote thoughtful economic growth for businesses and working families.
The Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois investigates the working conditions of workers in today’s economy to elevate public discourse aimed at reducing poverty, create more stable forms of employment, and promote middle-class jobs.