Last week, the 6-year-old granddaughter we’ve been raising since birth stood outside the open school bus door and would not get in. I grabbed a mask and hopped out of the car to encourage her to step into the bus and go to school. Instead, I found big fat tears rolling down her face. “What’s wrong?” I exclaimed! Her lip quivered as she told me, “It’s all just so much.”
This morning, I am sitting at my computer with tear-filled eyes and all I can think is, “It’s all just so much.”
It’s all just so much.
Just about a year ago, the United States saw its first official death from COVID-19, a man in Washington state. A little over a week ago we surpassed the 500,000 mark, a number that is almost incomprehensible in its scope and impact.
As a nation, we’ve at least somewhat settled into this new normal — masks and social distancing when going out; regular COVID-19 testing to play sports, teach or legislate. We are more comfortable than ever with remote work, Zoom calls and telemed visits.
The pandemic has also exposed some very deep fault lines in our country. Racism, sexism, ageism and ableism are on full display. One of those fault lines that is now not only exposed, but deepening and widening is the effect the pandemic has had on the women of this country — and specifically the moms.
Women have always worked. Always. Sometimes we’ve gotten paid for our work. Sometimes we’ve even received some recognition for our contributions. But we have always worked. During the pandemic, our workload has not decreased. In many, many cases, it has increased as moms have taken on more of the load of juggling education for their kids, health care for their parents, the family schedule, an ever-increasing to do list —and for too many, financial worries as their paying jobs are eliminated. And did I mention managing not only their own emotional responses, but their families’ as well?
It’s all just so much.
The economic impact of the pandemic on women (and by extension, their families) has been dubbed the “pink” recession, or the “she-cession” because the effects are so lopsided. Vice President Kamala Harris calls it a “national emergency.” The total number of women who have left the workforce since February 2020 stands at close to 2.5 million, dropping women’s labor force participation to the lowest level since 1988. (Nearly 1.8 million men have left the labor force since last February.) And heaven help you if you are a woman of color. It’s worse.
It’s important to note that most moms — including Utah moms — do work for pay. According to data from Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, 62% of moms who only have children who are under 6 years and 74% of moms whose children are older than 6 participate in the paid workforce. Half of the moms of families with children who are both under 6 and older than 6 work for pay.
Sarah Jane Glynn, who has a doctorate in sociology and is an expert on gendered economics, noted that the idea of a husband who works and wife who stays home to raise the children just isn’t supported by the data. Not only do most mothers work, but in 2019, 41% were the primary breadwinners for their families across the nation.
She shared that data point and a number of others on a recent Deseret News webinar that looked at “Women Bearing the Brunt” of the pandemic. She was joined by Reshma Saujani from Girls Who Code; Susan R. Madsen, who heads the Utah Women and Leadership Project; and writers Art Raymond, Savannah Hopkinson and Erica Evans.
Madsen is in the middle of gathering data specifically on Utah women and the impacts of the pandemic. She and her team of researchers are working through thousands of responses. Good data, grounded in the real, lived experiences of people makes for good public policy. If we are only looking at aggregated economic data, we miss those disparate impacts.
How we address what that support looks like and where it comes from varies widely. There are legislative proposals that range from the “Marshall Plan for Moms” being promoted by Saujani and others, to universal child care. (Let’s stop to think who is doing that child care — it’s usually women, and it’s often those who are already socioeconomically disadvantaged). There are proposed child tax credits, a per-child “allowance,” opportunities for “upskilling” and decreasing regulatory barriers for entry (for example, the bill the Utah Legislature just passed says you do not need a cosmetology license to shampoo or style hair.)
Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, said in January that she believes the economy will not fully recover until women “recover from the fact that they’ve lost ground in the labor market.” They will not — cannot — “reintegrate back into the workforce unless there’s enough support.”
The ripple effects of ignoring the economic impacts on women — and their families — could last generations. We have to get this one right.
Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy Daily and a Deseret News columnist.