Jobs Aplenty, but a Shortage of Care Keeps Many Women From Benefiting

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Lack of childcare and care for the elderly causes many women to reorganize their working lives, forcing some to give up their jobs altogether, which is hurting the economy at a time when companies are desperate to hire, forcing trade-offs that could hurt careers. .

Caregivers have left the industry in large numbers amid the pandemic, which has reduced the number of employees of nurseries and nursing homes by hundreds of thousands. At the same time, coronavirus outbreaks led to intermittent school closures, which in turn made care requirements less predictable and increased the need for reliable backup options.

Although many men have also taken on greater care duties since the pandemic began, women, according to the Department of Labor, perform the most care in America. They made a surprising return to the labor market despite that challenge.

Federal data show that the share of women entering the labor market through work, or by looking for work, remains depressed relative to 2019, but it has recovered about as much as the share for men. Mothers still work less than other women, but the gap between the two has narrowed to about the level that prevailed before the pandemic, an analysis by the Federal Reserve found.

Yet those signs of a return hide tribes below the surface. A deeper dive into the Labor Department’s monthly survey of households shows that unmarried women without university degrees who have young children have returned to work more slowly than others, a sign that the lack of care makes them particularly vulnerable.

Self-employment has also increased among mothers, suggesting that many women are finding ways to make work more flexible as they scramble to balance care responsibilities with their need to earn money. Other women talk about putting in fewer hours and dealing with larger workloads.

In February, about 39 percent of women with children under 5 told Stanford’s RAPID Survey that they had quit their jobs or reduced their hours since the pandemic began, up from 33 percent at the same time last year. More than 90 percent of those women said they did it on their own initiative, not because they were laid off or their hours cut off. Last year, that number was 65 percent.

Those who are forced to cut jobs may face lasting disadvantages. They miss an unusual moment of workforce, in which many employees bargain for higher wages or switch to more lucrative jobs. At present, the fields where women are most concentrated – including service sector jobs in hospitality and healthcare – have the most opportunities and the fastest salary growth.

“I think it will be really interesting to see what the long-term effects are on mothers’ career opportunities,” said Ariane Hegewisch, the program director in employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Women kept working, but they clearly had to cut back.”

America’s long-term care shortage, for both children and older adults, has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The professional care workforce – also excessively female – has not recovered. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one in ten childcare workers did not return (although that data may not capture all the single-employee, home-based operators that make up a large part of the sector). The number of nursing home workers remains 11.5 percent below its level in February 2020. Together, the two categories represent a loss of 500,000 jobs.

“For women, it’s the double whammy – most of those workers are women, and most of the people who need that support to enter the workforce themselves are women,” said Katherine Gallagher Robbins, a senior fellow of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

At the same time, there is new demand for care. After a decline in the number of births early in the pandemic, nearly 3.7 million people were born last year, 1 percent more than 2020 and the first such increase since 2014.

Christy Charny, a college administrative assistant in Fort Collins, Colo., Recently spoke with her manager about switching back her hours from full-time to part-time. She loves her job and needs it for the health insurance it offers, but her 12-week-old daughter had trouble nursing, and paying for full-time baby care was a no-brainer for her and her husband. .

“There’s no way we can afford $ 1,500 a month for childcare on our full – time salaries,” she said. Charny, 32, said. “We will incur debt just so I can work full time.”

For a while, she struggled to get any child care at all. She could not afford full-time assistance, and the day care center where she deposited a deposit would not give her a discount if she only used it part-time. She was furiously looking for other options when good news arrived: The most affordable nursery in her area, where she had been on the waiting list since October 2021, had a part-time opening.

The days – Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – were not exactly right for her professional schedule, but the place was only $ 246 a week, so she’s going to give it a try.

“I know we can make it work if we are careful and we cut back on other expenses,” she said. Ms Charny’s husband sells shoes at REI, and together they make about $ 60,000 before tax.

Economists have long identified a lack of available and affordable childcare as a reason why American women no longer work, sometimes by comparing the United States to Canada – which is economically similar in many respects but has broader childcare and parental leave policies and a higher rate of female employment. The same goes for parts of Europe.

“Until 1995, the United States was the world leader in terms of female labor force participation,” said Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard. “Now, this multitude of countries that we used to think were backward in terms of gender norms have exceeded the US”

And it is no surprise that the burden of care without professional help falls on workers with less education, who tend to earn less.

There is a “financial balance between work and childcare” that depends on “what portion of your income childcare eats,” said Sarah House, an economist at Wells Fargo. “It’s a much smaller share if you’re a working professional with a six-figure salary than when you do a restaurant job and pay barely $ 30,000.”

Stanford’s RAPID survey also showed that most mothers who cut jobs did so even though they did not have sufficient income without it. And for those who remain employed, volatility in the childcare industry can add significant stress.

“If you hung out with an official home-based provider to take your child so you could go to work, and that person closed their doors, you probably could not afford to stop working,” the survey director said. , Philip Fisher, said. . “So you’ll have to rely on anything you can put together.”

As some mothers retreat, there are implications for the economy. Employers miss a key source of labor at a time when they have nearly two jobs for every unemployed person.

Washington tried to offset the problem by allowing more parents to return to work. The U.S. bailout plan, introduced last year, provided $ 39 billion to help childminders stay open, and has likely prevented even greater reductions in care. Some states supplemented that money, while others relaxed licensing requirements and allowed a greater ratio of children to caregivers.

The White House’s Build Back Better legislation included $ 400 billion for childcare and kindergarten, and a recent study by a team of economists estimated that a similar plan could increase the rate at which mothers are employed by six percentage points. But the legislation went awry as concerns about spending increased.

Finding care for older adults also became more difficult after Covid-19 snatched through nursing homes and made nurses flee the bed.

Due to its dedicated federal funding stream, the elderly care industry is larger and more formalized than the child care sector. But his workforce was similarly low paid, and went through a terrifying time during the pandemic.

According to a recent survey conducted by the American Health Care Association, a nursing home retail group, wages for nurses have risen by between 28 percent and 34 percent since the pandemic began. But only about 5 percent of the nurses who left returned to such institutionalized institutions, according to federal data. Among the challenges for such centers is the tight labor market.

Dorinda McDougald is one of those who put it out there. She has been a clinical nursing assistant at Ellicott Center in Buffalo for 25 years and earns about $ 18 an hour.

“I stay there for the residents, because they deserve quality care,” she said. But not everyone makes the same choice: One of me. McDougald’s colleagues recently left to work for a Red Lobster. “You’ll have to compete with the area,” she said. McDougald said. “Everyone else pays $ 16, $ 17, $ 18.”

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 31 percent of nursing homes report staff shortages, which could prevent them from taking on more residents.

Part of it reflects a shift to home care, which has found both workers and patients safer and otherwise more attractive. Nursing home workers also left for staffing agencies and hospitals, offering better pay and more opportunities for promotion.

Among the states that report the most widespread staff shortages is Minnesota, where 69 percent of nursing homes say they do not have enough caregivers. This state has a larger than average share of non-profit facilities that depend on Medicaid and Medicare repayments, which according to the industry have not been adjusted for the increased cost of operations.

This is where Staci Drouillard (54) tried to find a place for her parents.

She lives in Grand Marais, on Lake Superior, two hours northeast of Duluth. Her father, who is 87 years old and a lifelong resident of the town, has dementia. Her mother, 83, cared for him until she had a series of strokes.

Both parents worked, but they were unable to build up enough savings to afford home care, even if a local assistant was available. The country’s only nursing home has 37 beds, but six are empty due to staff vacancies, according to the facility’s chief executive.

Now the task falls to Ms Drouillard, who goes to her parents’ house most days. After getting promotion at the radio station where she works, she moved to a job that is at home, with fewer hours, lower pay and less authority, as grooming takes up more and more of her time.

“As I watched my parents’ health deteriorate and deteriorate, I realized I needed to turn to a job that had less responsibility,” she said. Drouillard said. “Their care is kind of like having another job, except you do not really know what hours you are going to work.”

Audio produced by Parin Behrooz.

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