Millennial moms nearly three times more likely than dads to forgo work because lack of child care or school

About one in three millennial mothers who were unemployed in July reported that it was because they were unable to access child care or needed to care for children who were not in school. Yet only 11% of millennial fathers cite a lack of school and child care as the reason they are currently out of work. 

That divide is highlighted in a new analysis by the Center for American Progress fellows Rasheed Malik and Taryn Morrissey published Wednesday based on data collected in the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey from April through mid-July. 

"The coronavirus pandemic is stretching millennial parents to the breaking point and may set maternal labor force participation back decades," researchers Malik and Morrissey write. 

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In April, about 29% of out-of-work millennial mothers (defined here as those born between 1981 and 1996) cited the main reason they were unemployed was because they needed to care for children, according to the analysis. In June, that rose to a high of 38%. And while the latest figures in July are slightly lower (just over 33%), the researchers note that there are still far more millennial moms not working due to child care and school closures than in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.  

That's in contrast to fathers, where the highest percentage citing child care as a main reason for unemployment hit only 16.2% in June, the analysis finds. 

Lack of child care is impacting women's ability to work 

Part of the reason more women are forgoing work, Malik and Morrissey say, is that access to child care has been dramatically disrupted for many American families. When it comes down to it, if a family's child care fails, studies show that more often than not, women bear the burden.

The pandemic has exacerbated this issue, causing widespread closures of child-care facilities. Nearly half, 47%, of working parents reported losing the child care they used before the pandemic, according to a June report from the University of Oregon's RAPID-EC Research Group. Of families using child-care centers, 60% lost their provider.

Additionally, 18% of child-care centers nationwide are still closed, according to a survey released in mid-July by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Of child-care providers that are open, enrollment is down by an average of 67%. While some of that is due to parents' anxiety about the risks of sending children back, many states have placed capacity limits on providers to ensure that social distancing and safety requirements are upheld. 

And this problem will likely continue into the fall: Many school districts are planning for limited in-classroom schedules, which may mean that parents will need to provide in-home care for their children for the foreseeable future. And that may have long-term effects on their careers. 

Caregiving falls more often to moms and is 'significantly devalued'

While a lack of child care may be a major reason mothers are forgoing work right now, it's certainly not the only hurtle that women face in the workforce. Even among moms who are employed, many take on part-time work so they can balance caring for their children, and many face wage discrimination. 

"This goes back decades," says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and co-founder of MomsRising. "The paid and unpaid work of caregiving is significantly devalued and discriminated against to the point that being a mom is now a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than being a woman."

On average, full-time working mothers are paid just 71 cents to every dollar paid to working dads — with Black and Hispanic working moms earning even less. And single mothers earn just 55 cents for every dollar paid to fathers.

The pandemic has only exacerbated issues facing working mothers. Overall, the pandemic has hit women's jobs much harder than men's. Women have lost nearly 7 million net jobs since February and account for over half of overall job losses since the start of the crisis, according to the National Women's Law Center. Plus, the recovery has been slower for women. Only two in five of the 12.1 million women's jobs lost between February and April have returned as of the end of last month. 

Yet prior to the pandemic, women had actually surpassed men in the workforce, representing 50.04% of those employed earlier this year. In July, women made up just 49.7% of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

"When moms and women experience extreme wage discrimination, when there isn't pay parity, it actually impacts the wallets of every single person in our nation," Rowe-Finkbeiner says.

All Americans should be incentivized to find solutions for the current child-care crisis, she contends, and prioritize investments in the essential infrastructure that allows parents to work and kids to be cared for in safe environments. 

Don't miss more in this series: 

  • Lack of school and child care could mean losing 'a generation of working parents
  • 'No solid answers': The scramble to reopen schools leaves teachers with concerns
  • 'I am definitely panicking'— Parents say school reopening plans leave them without any good options
  • Only 32% of companies returning to work have plans for employees' child-care needs even as many schools postpone reopening full-time
  • My preschool closed and now I'm looking at schools with tuition over four times what I was paying

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